[Presentation] Open source and its social impact

This is a discussion thread for the “Open source and its social impact” presentation. Remember this video has been shared unpolished and unedited.

Please feel free to ask any questions below. Please remember the Ubuntu code of conduct.

Resources

1 Like

First of all, yay! So glad this video is out in the world and I’m really excited for future ones. :slight_smile:

I wanted to share this short (fewer than 12 minutes) video with anyone else joining the conversation, re: the Renaissance, namely, how do we decide a thing has happened.

John Green’s Crash Course: Was the Renaissance a Thing

Beyond issues of space and time, I think a relevant point in this video is who the Renaissance happens to/for. It’s a very different experience for someone in Florence vs. someone in the countryside, and even in Florence, that experience depends on so many other factors - your wealth, your gender and race, etc.

Similarly, I’d argue, if there’s an open source renaissance happening, does that mean it’s happening for everyone? (And is there a difference between something happening for people versus something happening to them?) And if this is just a rebirth for a relatively small group of people, how do we, as proponents of open source, argue it still matters? (Disclaimer: I think it does matter! But it’s fun to really have to defend the how and the why - or at least talk about it!)

1 Like

it’s fun to really have to defend the how and the why - or at least talk about it!

Yeah! Let’s have a discussion! :slight_smile:

I wanted to share this short (fewer than 12 minutes) video with anyone else joining the conversation, re: the Renaissance, namely, how do we decide a thing has happened.

John Green’s Crash Course: Was the Renaissance a Thing

I watched this (as you know). There’s lots in that video that makes my statements in my talk sound very naive. To say it was “in the 1700s” is definitely wrong (1300s-1600s). It’s definitely true that the Renaissance stole significantly from the Ottoman empire, and spanned many centuries and would not have been experienced as a continuum by anyone. Even the evolutions in scientific thinking and ideas that it symbolises can only be said to belong to “the Renaissance” from a pretty western perspective. This is all true. I still think the Renaissance is a useful idea.

I do want to be careful not to just take the opposing view for the sake of it, or because I mentioned it in my video. I’ll probably fail though - I’m too used to being a devil’s advocate.

I think for the purposes of discussing the value of open source, the position of the Renaissance in a generally understood genealogy of ideas is more important than its actual facts. It is western-centric, but then computer tech & therefore open source’s history are also western-centric, so a western-centric view feels not entirely unwarranted. Anyway, it’s the story of the Renaissance that’s the useful thing here, in that it helps us to understand how that story led to the values embodied in the web and open source.

Beyond issues of space and time, I think a relevant point in this video is who the Renaissance happens to/for. It’s a very different experience for someone in Florence vs. someone in the countryside, and even in Florence, that experience depends on so many other factors - your wealth, your gender and race, etc.

Similarly, I’d argue, if there’s an open source renaissance happening, does that mean it’s happening for everyone? (And is there a difference between something happening for people versus something happening to them?) And if this is just a rebirth for a relatively small group of people, how do we, as proponents of open source, argue it still matters?

I feel your core point is pretty interesting - that the Renaissance, to the extent that it existed at all, definitely only benefited elites. And that the same is true of tech & open source today.

I think the inequity, unfairness and exclusivity of open source and of tech advancements in general is a really important thing to be keenly aware of. However, I don’t believe this is an argument against the open source movement. I feel it’s the opposite.

It is a generally true fact about the world that whoever has the gold makes the rules. Power has always been concentrated in the hands of an incredibly tiny segment of society. Because of this, any new innovations or discoveries inevitably benefit the elite first, and they will usually do their best to keep any benefits for themselves.

Armed with this knowledge, the important question to ask is about which direction our work pushes in. Are we helping to consolidate power at the top, or are we helping to devolve it? Are we empowering people or taking power away from them?

To me, openness and transparency are the most powerful forces I can think of to devolve power. Knowledge is power, and so openness and sharing is the devolution of power. Transparency is not sufficient to tackle inequality, diversity, prejudice, but it is, for me, a prerequisite.

We must always remain aware that the people who will benefit first and most easily from our sharing will be the privileged, and so we must also keep trying to remain inclusive and invite people into the movement who might not feel empowered to join. But open source itself is essential.

(My knowledge about the Enlightenment is clearly lacking, but my instinct would be that the same defence would apply there. That yes, it only benefitted a tiny slice of society, but without it we would never have had the democratic movements that came after. But who knows?)

Sorry for the essay. I’d love to know your thoughts :slight_smile:

1 Like

Oh one other point - for Marx the central solution to the class war is for the people to seize the means of production.

In today’s world, at least one of these means of production is source code.

Open source is about sharing the means of production with everybody.

1 Like