Hacking has traditionally been an
activity whereby people tried to break into computer systems and
networks. They either did this with malice(to steal credit card
information) or good intentions(to improve the security of the system
or to lean how it works). The former spawning the term black hat and
the latter spawning the term white hat. Hacking initially started
with phone phreaking and went via the era of Kevin Mitnick to the
script kiddies of today. Kevin Mitnick himself by the way went from a
hacker who was
imprisoned to a well respected security
consultant and speaker with probably the world's coolest business card pictured above.
The term hacking is now however under
threat. From all sides it is being stretched into all directions much
like Oprah's pants. Sites, such as LifeHacker
give you tips on how to make your life more efficient. Other
sites show you how to hack
every day objects such as coke machines. Hacking is now turning
into a term that means, “experimenting playfully with technology.”
It is becoming a synonym for make. Even though many “hacking sites”
now talk about Hacking
Furby rather than the intricacies of computer security the spirit
of hacking is still alive in them. A curious group of pioneers
exploring, learning about and experimenting with new technology:
hacking if you will.
I would like to add that the mix up started with the fact that there are actually two phenomena that are often mixed up:
- Hacking, the "art" of slapping code together
- Cracking, the well euhmmm of getting access to computers without permission
The first is now being extended to other domains than the computer domain. The confusion starts when media started to confuse hackers (coders) with crackers.
You have the dichotomy in use of the word 'hacking' down, but the order is off. Originally the term was applied in the general sense of tinkering, especially with technology, but later was misunderstood by the media and thus general public as applying only to "breaking in" to computers. While an artful break-in may be termed "hacking", the vast majority of computer security breaches are not and the usage of the term by those such as LifeHacker is in fact more appropriate to the original meaning.
More details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hack_(technology_slang)