Araina Bond | May 4, 2015Gary Genosko wants you to see your big toe as a powerful tool in the counter-culture movement. This underappreciated appendage, he tells us, can even hack a casino. In fact, in the late 1970s, a group of creative graduate students used data sent by tapping their big toes on a micro-switch hidden in their shoes to beat the odds at roulette. Genosko, a professor in and director of the Communication and Digital Media Studies program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, also insists that a hospital-gowned patient sneaking into forbidden rooms, trailing his IV pole behind him, can be a counter-culture warrior. Canadian Jeff Chapman (known as Ninjalicious), was an "urban explorer" who developed his interest in off-limit areas while a cancer patient. Genosko says Chapman, and others like him, are "unofficial cartographers of the city.” Chapman published stories of his explorations in his zine Infiltration (small, self-published magazines - another strong counter-culture movement) to showcase the forbidden side of our cities' buildings and monuments. Chapman and the enteprising graduate students are exactly the type of radicals that Genosko studies. He is fascinated by the way technoculture both elevates and subverts established powers by taking the road less travelled and challenging cultural norms. “It’s a form of culture-jamming,” he explains. “It’s the act of converting a commercial and institutional message to be subversive of its original intent. The magazine Adbusters would be an example of this in print.” Genosko’s 2013 book, When Technocultures Collide: Innovation from Below and the Struggle for Autonomy, uses surprising and entertaining examples of the ways technically-inspired subcultures undermine and challenge corporations and governments. His research demonstrates how technoculture stimulates forgotten technologies and ideas, repurposing and re-imagining them in ways that both subvert and improve technology. The vignettes he shares exemplify an underlying theme: by subverting technology, outsiders such as phone phreaks not only subvert corporations or governments, but also, ironically, often help them improve technology. Hacking phone lines can be a resume-builder Phone phreaks, for example, not only hack in and access free long distance, they also expose the extent to which phone calls can be traced without a warrant. One phreak Genosko discusses in detail is a young man with the pseudonym “Captain Crunch” (He figured out that the free whistle in the box of Captain Crunch cereal was the exact tone needed to hack into long distance lines). Once Captain Crunch finished his jail time for hacking, he worked for several phone companies, helping them upgrade their security and services. Even Steve Jobs, Genosko tells us, was once a phone phreak. And in an ironic twist, he says, Apple has hired jailbreakers—hackers who fix their iPhones so they’re able to accept non-approved apps—to work with the company to improve apps and security. “In this way,” he explains. “A quasi-legal activity becomes a highly valued technical skill.” Whether it’s urban explorers, hackers, phreaks or zine publishers, Genosko demonstrates the important, if counter-intuitive, ways in which those on the margins have a significant – often unrecognized – effect on both our technology and our culture.