Archive for the 'Forum Chairperson Comments' Category

Opening Comments - Brisbane Forum

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Hello. Here is a copy of my opening remarks from the Brisbane Still Open Forum. A couple of people mentioned they wanted a copy, so here it is. Thanks. Linda



I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the country where we are gathering. The Jagera and Turrbul people’s have occupied the area we know as the greater Brisbane area and beyond for many thousands of years.

We are here tonight to talk about the rich opportunities availed by Open Source. For those who have been keeping up with the Still Open blog, Eliot Bledsoe of Creative Commons discussed how copyright is being reborn and remixed. Evolving and mutating publishing, creative, production and sharing environments require new and diverse ways of handling intellectual property. These questions of weighing up owning and sharing are at the core of Open Source, Creative Commons, Free Software, Copyleft and related licensing and distribution practices. Thanks to the enhanced content capabilities of Web 2.0, we are now seeing the unprecedented sharing of everything on the internet! We not only really want to share, we also want access to alternatives for expensive proprietary software and free of corporate controlled spaces. Trebor Sholz describes this as ‚Äòextreme sharing’.

Open Source is more than a licensing and distribution model. It also involves tools and processes. It involves information and knowledge. It involves social, cultural and ethical interactions. We can confidently talk of an Open Source Culture that is infiltrating the spectrum of creative fields including art, design, architecture and science. For example, the open science movement encourages a collaborative environment in which “science can be pursued by anyone who is inspired to discover something new about the natural world”. The same can said of some open design and architecture networks.

What is the work of a word like ‘open’? What does it do and how does it do it?

When we think about the world’s current obsession about borders, ownership, protection and security, open is not a concept that sits comfortably within dominant politics and economics. So this small and seemingly innocuous word represents a dangerous idea for some. For others, it presents potent opportunities for connection and change, especially when coupled with other words like mind, heart, hand …

In The Open Work by Umberto Eco, the idea of openness is thoroughly examined. He addresses openness as “the artist’s decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of a work to the public or chance”. While Eco is specifically addressing openness in our reception and interaction with a work of art, he does talk about the idea of openness as plurality and multiplicity. And so, I think, it is similar with Open Source and this will be borne out in the work of tonight’s presenters.

Open is also a verb, not just an endgame or a description. It is an action - something we can do. Openness also does something and we should, from time to time, turn our attention to how and what it does. It carries a sense of release, or rather, of not being constrained or closed. So in considering Open Source, we may consider that we are releasing ourselves from some of the constraints and histories that contain or restrain our engagements with and ideas about science, technology and art. We may consider that those histories are themselves open. We are also releasing things into the world, hopefully to assume a life of their own. This is, while very serious work, also very joyful. Given this joyousness, it’s worrying that people in power are running scared from openness.

In statements from two iconic 20th century thinkers, there is some resonance. Speaking decades ago, they seem to encapsulate and communicate the need and potential for openness.

The first was said by the inventor and designer Richard Buckminster Fuller:

We have reached the point where we are now possessed of sufficient information for each individual human to dare to exercise the option to “make it” rather than having to depend on the decisions of an educated elite.

The second was spoken by the astronomer Carl Sagan:

We have … arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

Unknowingly, Sagan and Buckminster Fuller presented compelling cases for Open Source approaches. They are saying knowledge and change-making need to be in the hands of the many. They identify the need for more of us to be participant in knowledge, creativity and know-how in these realms of science, technology and discovery. Open Source and the idea of the ‘commons’ are ways in which we can cleave the anxieties Sagan evokes, and realise the potential that Buckminster Fuller projects. Knowledge, as Armin Medosch claims, should be in the public realm. Where there is Open Source there is a niggle in the social fabric and a thorn in the polity whispering about the future of an ‘open society’.