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The Free Everything Movement

This pretty much sums it up: Moglen goes on a rant about the evils of capitalism and the wonders of the open source movement. What he proposes is not practical for the world (as it is today) because the open source ideology that helped foster innovation in previous decades does not scale globally. Networks like Facebook have very real operating costs that can’t be covered by donations or grants; product R&D would lack focus and lead to fragmentation (ex. lots of Linux distros).

Monetizing user data is the price of admission in today’s day and age; if you don’t want to participate, you can live in a cabin in the woods, a la Ted Kaczynski. Moglen described man-in-the-middle attacks on people’s social lives, but that’s not what is happening here. A man in the middle attack involves an unknown intermediary; here, entities like Facebook are very much known and broadly publicize/notify their users of their privacy policies and when they change.

He talks a lot about anonymity in addition to privacy. As we’ve learned with other online communities and in our Applications class presentation several weeks ago, when under the veil of anonymity people misbehave: they say and do horrible things when they think there is no accountability for their actions. A network like Facebook ties activity in the online community to real world identities, making the users more civil (or at least on par with their behavior in real life).

He talks a lot about hackable devices; proffering that being able to tear apart and understand the gadgets around us allowed for innovation occur in the computing age. The reality of the situation is that systems which prevent this hacker exploration are there for very real reasons: protect the intellectual property of copyright holders (like the artists in our program), protect encrypted information (like the PGP encryption he so vehemently defends), and to make devices more convenient for people (you can’t upgrade your RAM or switch out your battery because you wanted it to be slimmer).

Of course the work in STEM education is a counterbalance to all this. The most inspiring parts of his talk were diluted by everything else I’ve described: education is key in fostering innovation. The Maker movement relies on easily accessible info and hardware which can be explored by inspired minds. If the cost of digitizing all of Europe’s public domain books is the same as maintaining 6000km of roads, let’s go with a few potholes for a while.

In order to have Einsteins and Shakespeares in this world, we need to enable them to realize their genius. I’m not saying that open source and privacy have no place in this world, it’s just that they shouldn’t rule it; it’s an important part of the checks and balances that keep the industry honest and promote innovation from many different sources.

3 comments to The Free Everything Movement

  • Nancy

    A good start to open a serious discussion of free and open.We started that a few weeks ago with the security camera discussion in class–privacy vs security. These are discussions we need to have deep thinking on .. not just the reflexive ‘it should all be free. I find myself more on the side of artists and inventors getting to own their own work. When is it sharing open source info/code and when is it stealing. Muddy waters, blurry lines, important stuff.

  • ssb425

    I find myself asking the same question of what is open and free. The open source/free everything movement has been very well defined in the programming/software community. But in other fields, it still lacks an appropriate definition. The question is whether free/open can be applied to entities other than code? I would love to live in a world where I can ‘open source’ some of my actions. This works in two ways though, the act of ‘open sourcing’ also means that my actions are documented as something initiated by me. It would be an interesting world for artists to live in I think. The difference would be in the philosophy of an action. I can make money from what I do, but at the same time my actions can be replicated by other people locally to help them in one way or the other. I think Alternate Economy would be the perfect place for such an ecosystem, based on the ‘open’ philosophy, to exist

    But on the other hand, I agree with Carl, both the industry and the open source community need to exist for the betterment of the entire ecosystem. The industry helps set the standard open source/free software needs to compete against and helps maintain the overall quality of the product. The open source community, on the other hand, makes sure that a situation of monopoly never arises. Although much of this harmony can be seen in the software ecosystem, I would love to see the same apply to other professions as well.

  • Yolanda "Zaragoza"

    A few years ago, I came across a book by Paul Arden entitled, “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”. He writes about how “Ideas are open knowledge. Don’t claim ownership”. His reasoning behind this notion is that ideas are built on top of other ideas that are not entirely made up of your own. Though Paul Arden was speaking more about the advertising industry, it is interesting that the same could be said about the open-source movement. Unlike the advertising industry, the real issue with the open-source movement in sustainability. Carl mentioned how large scale networks tackle this challenge. I am curious as to what the solution is for smaller scale projects and networks to overcome the challenge of how to provide things for free and maintain their operating costs. I am curious if this affects the quality of their projects since funds can be limited at times. It will be interesting to see the evolution of the software ecosystem as more open source projects become more available.

    Nancy brought a good point about when does sharing become stealing. Where do you draw the line? How could this movement be better regulated?

    This alternate economy that ssb425 suggests is very interesting. It would be great if ssb425 could expand on this. Before there was the formal exchange of money, bartering networks of goods and services was in place. Do you think that the alternate economy will be based more on this?