Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Open Source Culture -- continuing the conversation on Darknet

Following my post on the book Darknet, I came across several critiques of the almost lazzeiz faire attitude toward information sharing propogated by the book.

First I saw an article in Forbes (no, I don't subscribe -- it was at the library) critiquing bloggers and their impact upon business (read the article, but to do it online, it'll cost you two bucks). They told stories about vigilante bloggers who did their best to ruin businesses based on unsubstantiated rumor. Shortly thereafter, Michael Kruse gave some very thoughtful comments on my post: "Not everyone wants there ideas widely spread. Take investment banking research reports. Part of its value is that the consumer is one of only a few who get the benefit of the analysis. They want their information controlled and exclusive." -- the idea is that some people want to control data, not because of image control (like Disney for instance) but because the data itself is the value that they provide. Then, of course, it just took a little thought for me to remember that the cleverness of humanity in harmful behavior will not be trumped by open source data. Indeed, all open source data does is provide more tools for us to express our sinful nature or to express a redeemed nature.

In face of the critiques, however, it does seem that the zeitgeist is toward open access to as much data as we can get -- open access and open ability to remix and blend it at will. Witness Douglas Rushkoff's latest book -- he's releasing the main ideas on his weblog as "thought viruses". He's basically giving away the content of the book, in hopes that people will be interested enough in buying it. In fact, the latest thought virus is on this topic of the "open source" society.

Then there is the concept from trendwatching.com -- the Idea of Generation C -- the creative generation who finds it perfectly natural to create content rather than passively receiving it. These are people who actively engage in life, and they engage in all of it -- and they feel it is their right to remix and work with the data that they think is cool to them.

Clearly the zeitgeist is in the way of open access to information. But content creators want some control of their ideas (and indeed deserve to be fairly compensated for their work). Individuals want some control over their private data (I really don't want my face superimposed on top of a image of a monkey -- Mt. Rushmore perhaps, but not a monkey -- and just by saying that, I've thrown a gauntlet for some joker to do it).

So this takes us right to the realm of ethics -- we as Christians need to articulate an ethics for an open source world. And this means that we can't just go about ignoring the law with impunity -- it means that when we use creative content, we have to consider our responsibilities to the original creators of that material. What will be the ethical questions for the digital generation -- right now, it's kind of a wild west out here in the blogosphere -- anyone can say anything.

Thoughts, comments, ideas. I'm shooting in the dark on this one!

Soli Deo Gloria