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Open Source Culture
This nOde last updated February 20th, 2005 and is permanently morphing...
(3 Cauac (Storm Cloud) / 2 Kayab (Turtle) - 159/260 - 18.104.22.168.19)
a term to describe an extensible culture. meaning that those who originally "created" it, let go for the world to participate in, trusting the process. of course, perversion and bad taste occur, but those should be patiently tolerated, as opposed to excommunication - the way organized religion handles it... worlds and universes can get to this point without the original "author" being aware of it... where does "goth" start? Bram Stoker's _Dracula_? Mary Shelley? it is running its own course, and anyone can put a twist on it. open source culture is basically anything without an adhered "canon" as a reference point, and definitely no law suits. - @Om* - 10/5/01
"An open-source future is one in which we realize that reality itself is open source. That the world is conforming to our expectations of it, and that we are all participating and all contributing to its unfolding. The reason that people have gods and all this other stuff is because they can't cope with that yet. That's a scary thought -- that we're in charge. We've got the whole world in our hands." - Douglas Rushkoff
"The new civilisation will not be another civilisation. It will be an open stretch of realisation which all the past civilisations have pointed to. The city, which was the birth-place of civilization as we know it to be, will exist no more. The people of the earth will no longer be shut off from one another within states but will flow freely over the surface of the earth and intermingle. Government will give way to management, using the word in a broad sense. The politician will become as super-annuated as the dodo bird. The machine will never be dominated as some imagine; it will be scrapped, eventually, but not before men have understood the nature of the mystery which binds them to their creation. The worship, investigation and subjugation of the machine will give way to the lure of all that is truly occult. This problem is bound up with the larger one of power - and of possession. Man will be forced to realise that power must be kept open, fluid and free. His aim will be not to possess power but to radiate it."
- Henry Miller, in a little known work, Sunday After the War, published in 1944.
The Great Giveaway
Good ideas are worth money. So why are hard headed operators giving them away for free? Join our experiment to find out says Graham Lawton
IF YOU'VE BEEN to a computer show in recent months you might have seen it: a shiny silver drinks can with a ring-pull logo and the words "opencola" on the side. Inside is a fizzy drink that tastes very much like Coca-Cola. Or is it Pepsi?
There's something else written on the can, though, which sets the drink apart. It says "check out the source at opencola.com". Go to that Web address and you'll see something that's not available on Coca-Cola's website, or Pepsi's--the recipe for cola. For the first time ever, you can make the real thing in your own home.
OpenCola is the world's first "open source" consumer product. By calling it open source, its manufacturer is saying that instructions for making it are freely available. Anybody can make the drink, and anyone can modify and improve on the recipe as long as they, too, release their recipe into the public domain. As a way of doing business it's rather unusual--the Coca-Cola Company doesn't make a habit of giving away precious commercial secrets. But that's the point.
OpenCola is the most prominent sign yet that a long-running battle between rival philosophies in software development has spilt over into the rest of the world. What started as a technical debate over the best way to debug computer programs is developing into a political battle over the ownership of knowledge and how it is used, between those who put their faith in the free circulation of ideas and those who prefer to designate them "intellectual property". No one knows what the outcome will be. But in a world of growing opposition to corporate power, restrictive intellectual property rights and globalisation, open source is emerging as a possible alternative, a potentially potent means of fighting back. And you're helping to test its value right now.
The open source movement originated in 1984 when computer scientist Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT and set up the Free Software Foundation. His aim was to create high-quality software that was freely available to everybody. Stallman's beef was with commercial companies that smother their software with patents and copyrights and keep the source code--the original program, written in a computer language such as C++--a closely guarded secret. Stallman saw this as damaging. It generated poor-quality, bug-ridden software. And worse, it choked off the free flow of ideas. Stallman fretted that if computer scientists could no longer learn from one another's code, the art of programming would stagnate (_New Scientist_, 12 December 1998, p 42).
Stallman's move resonated round the computer science community and now there are thousands of similar projects. The star of the movement is Linux, an operating system created by Finnish studentLinus Torvalds in the early 1990s and installed on around 18 million computers worldwide.
What sets open source software apart from commercial
software is the fact that it's free, in both the political and the economic
sense. If you want to use a commercial product such as Windows XP or Mac
OS X you have to pay a fee and agree to abide by a licence that stops you
from modifying or sharing the software. But if you want to run Linux or
another open source package, you can do so without paying a penny--although
several companies will sell you the software bundled with support services.
You can also modify the software in any way you choose, copy it and share
it without restrictions. This freedom acts as an open invitation--some
say challenge--to its users to make improvements. As a result, thousands
of volunteers are constantly working on Linux, adding new features and
winkling out bugs. Their contributions are reviewed by a panel and the
best ones are added to Linux. For programmers, the kudos of a successful
contribution is its own reward. The result is a stable, powerful system
that adapts rapidly to technological change. Linux is so successful that
even IBM installs it on the computers it
To maintain this benign state of affairs, open source software is covered by a special legal instrument called the General Public License. Instead of restricting how the software can be used, as a standard software license does, the GPL--often known as a "copyleft"--grants as much freedom as possible (see http://www.fsf.org/licenses/gpl.html). Software released under the GPL (or a similar copyleft licence) can be copied, modified and distributed by anyone, as long as they, too, release it under a copyleft. That restriction is crucial, because it prevents the material from being co-opted into later proprietary products. It also makes open source software different from programs that are merely distributed free of charge. In FSF's words, the GPL "makes it free and guarantees it remains free".
Open source has proved a very successful way of writing software. But it has also come to embody a political stand--one that values freedom of expression, mistrusts corporate power, and is uncomfortable with private ownership of knowledge. It's "a broadly libertarian view of the proper relationship between individuals and institutions", according to open source guru Eric Raymond.
But it's not just software companies that lock knowledge away and release it only to those prepared to pay. Every time you buy a CD, a book, a copy of _New Scientist_, even a can of Coca-Cola, you're forking out for access to someone else's intellectual property. Your money buys you the right to listen to, read or consume the contents, but not to rework them, or make copies and redistribute them. No surprise, then, that people within the open source movement have asked whether their methods would work on other products. As yet no one's sure--but plenty of people are trying it.
Take OpenCola. Although originally intended as a promotional tool to explain open source software, the drink has taken on a life of its own. The Toronto- based OpenCola company has become better known for the drink than the software it was supposed to promote. Laird Brown, the company's senior strategist, attributes its success to a widespread mistrust of big corporations and the "proprietary nature of almost everything". A website selling the stuff has shifted 150,000 cans. Politically minded students in the US have started mixing up the recipe for parties.
OpenCola is a happy accident
and poses no real threat to Coke or Pepsi, but elsewhere people are deliberately
using the open source model to challenge entrenched interests. One popular
target is the music industry. At the forefront of the attack is the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco group set up to defend civil liberties
in the digital society. In April of last year, the EFF published a model
copyleft called the Open Audio License (OAL). The idea is to let musicians
take advantage of digital
music's properties--ease of copying and distribution--rather than fighting
against them. Musicians who release music under an OAL consent to their
work being freely copied, performed, reworked and reissued, as long as
these new products are released under the same licence. They can then rely
distribution" to get heard. "If the people like the music, they will support the artist to ensure the artist can continue to make music," says Robin Gross of the EFF.
It's a little early to judge whether the OAL will capture imaginations in the same way as OpenCola. But it's already clear that some of the strengths of open source software simply don't apply to music. In computing, the open source method lets users improve software by eliminating errors and inefficient bits of code, but it's not obvious how that might happen with music. In fact, the music is not really "open source" at all. The files posted on the OAL music website http://www.openmusicregistry.org so far are all MP3s and Ogg Vorbises--formats which allow you to listen but not to modify.
It's also not clear why any mainstream artists would ever choose to release music under an OAL. Many bands objected to the way Napster members circulated their music behind their backs, so why would they now allow unrestricted distribution, or consent to strangers fiddling round with their music? Sure enough, you're unlikely to have heard of any of the 20 bands that have posted music on the registry. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Open Audio amounts to little more than an opportunity for obscure artists to put themselves in the shop window.
The problems with open music, however, haven't put people off trying open source methods elsewhere. Encyclopedias, for example, look like fertile ground. Like software, they're collaborative and modular, need regular upgrading, and improve with peer review. But the first attempt, a free online reference called Nupedia, hasn't exactly taken off. Two years on, only 25 of its target 60,000 articles have been completed. "At the current rate it will never be a large encyclopedia," says editor-in-chief Larry Sanger. The main problem is that the experts Sanger wants to recruit to write articles have little incentive to participate. They don't score academic brownie points in the same way software engineers do for upgrading Linux, and Nupedia can't pay them.
It's a problem that's inherent to most open source products: how do you get people to chip in? Sanger says he's exploring ways to make money out of Nupedia while preserving the freedom of its content. Banner adverts are a possibility. But his best hope is that academics start citing Nupedia articles so authors can earn academic credit.
There's another possibility: trust the collective goodwill of the open source community. A year ago, frustrated by the treacle-like progress of Nupedia, Sanger started another encyclopedia named Wikipedia (the name is taken from open source Web software called WikiWiki that allows pages to be edited by anyone on the Web). It's a lot less formal than Nupedia: anyone can write or edit an article on any topic, which probably explains the entries on beer and Star Trek. But it also explains its success. Wikipedia already contains 19,000 articles and is acquiring several thousand more each month. "People like the idea that knowledge can and should be freely distributed and developed," says Sanger. Over time, he reckons, thousands of dabblers should gradually fix any errors and fill in any gaps in the articles until Wikipedia evolves into an authoritative encyclopedia with hundreds of thousands of entries.
Another experiment that's proved its worth is the OpenLaw project at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Berkman lawyers specialise in cyberlaw--hacking, copyright, encryption and so on--and the centre has strong ties with the EFF and the open source software community. In 1998 faculty member Lawrence Lessig, now at Stanford Law School, was asked by online publisher Eldritch Press to mount a legal challenge to US copyright law. Eldritch takes books whose copyright has expired and publishes them on the Web, but new legislation to extend copyright from 50 to 70 years after the author's death was cutting off its supply of new material. Lessig invited law students at Harvard and elsewhere to help craft legal arguments challenging the new law on an online forum, which evolved into OpenLaw.
Normal law firms write arguments the way commercial software companies write code. Lawyers discuss a case behind closed doors, and although their final product is released in court, the discussions or "source code" that produced it remain secret. In contrast, OpenLaw crafts its arguments in public and releases them under a copyleft. "We deliberately used free software as a model," says Wendy Selzer, who took over OpenLaw when Lessig moved to Stanford. Around 50 legal scholars now work on Eldritch's case, and OpenLaw has taken other cases, too.
"The gains are much the same as for software," Selzer says. "Hundreds of people scrutinise the 'code' for bugs, and make suggestions how to fix it. And people will take underdeveloped parts of the argument, work on them, then patch them in." Armed with arguments crafted in this way, OpenLaw has taken Eldritch's case--deemed unwinnable at the outset--right through the system and is now seeking a hearing in the Supreme Court.
There are drawbacks, though. The arguments are in the public domain right from the start, so OpenLaw can't spring a surprise in court. For the same reason, it can't take on cases where confidentiality is important. But where there's a strong public interest element, open sourcing has big advantages. Citizens' rights groups, for example, have taken parts of OpenLaw's legal arguments and used them elsewhere. "People use them on letters to Congress, or put them on flyers," Selzer says.
The open content movement is still at an early stage and it's hard to predict how far it will spread. "I'm not sure there are other areas where open source would work," says Sanger. "If there were, we might have started it ourselves." Eric Raymond has also expressed doubts. In his much-quoted 1997 essay, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, he warned against applying open source methods to other products. "Music and most books are not like software, because they don't generally need to be debugged or maintained," he wrote. Without that need, the products gain little from others' scrutiny and reworking, so there's little benefit in open sourcing. "I do not want to weaken the winning argument for open sourcing software by tying it to a potential loser," he wrote.
But Raymond's views have now shifted subtly. "I'm more willing to admit that I might talk about areas other than software someday," he told _New Scientist_. "But not now." The right time will be once open source software has won the battle of ideas, he says. He expects that to happen around 2005.
And so the experiment goes on. As a contribution to it, New Scientist has agreed to issue this article under a copyleft. That means you can copy it, redistribute it, reprint it in whole or in part, and generally play around with it as long as you, too, release your version under a copyleft and abide by the other terms and conditions in the licence. We also ask that you inform us of any use you make of the article, by e-mailing email@example.com.
One reason for doing so is that by releasing it
under a copyleft, we can print the recipe for OpenCola without violating
its copyleft. If nothing else, that demonstrates the power of the copyleft
to spread itself. But there's another reason, too: to see what happens.
To my knowledge this is the first magazine article published under a copyleft.
Who knows what the outcome will be? Perhaps the article will disappear
without a trace. Perhaps it will be photocopied, redistributed, re-edited,
rewritten, cut and pasted onto websites, handbills and articles all over
the world. I don't know--but that's the point. It's not up to me any more.
The decision belongs to all of
For a selection of copylefts, see
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond is available at
THE INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE IS FREE. It may be copied, distributed and/or modified under the conditions set down in the Design Science License published by Michael Stutz at http://dsl.org/copyleft/dsl.txt
In the past 100 years as these super technologies have been developed in the west... the smashing of atoms, the invention of radio, televsion, computers, immunology, so forth and so on... data has been arriving about the practices of aboriginal cultures all over the planet... that they dissolve ordinary realities, ordinary cultural values, through an interaction, a symbiosis, a relationship to local plants, that perturb brain chemistry. and in this domain of perturbed brain chemistry, the cultural operating system is wiped clean and something older, even for these people, something older, more vitalistic, more in touch with the animal soul, replaces it. replaces it. replaces the cultural operating system. something not determined by history and geography but something writ in the language of the flesh itself. this is who you are. this is true nakedness. you are not naked when you take off your clothes. you still wear your religious assumptions, your prejudices, your fears, your allusions, your delusions. when you shed the cultural operating system, then essentially you stand naked before the inspection of your own psyche. Desmond Morris called it 'the naked ape'. and it's from THAT position. a position outside the cultural operating system, that we can begin to ask real questions about what does it mean to be human, what kind of circumstance are we caught in, and what kind of structures, if any, can we put in place, to assuage the pain and accentuate the glory and the wonder that lurks waiting for us in this very narrow slice of time between the birth canal and the yawning grave. in other words, we have to return to first premises.
so i've been thinking about this a lot, and at first it seemed only to me only a metaphor. this phrase 'culture is your operating system'. but because i travel around a lot and get that jolting experience frequently, of let's say leaving London on a foggy evening and arriving in Johannesberg 14 hours later to sweltering day in a city of 14 million on the brink anarchy... i get to change my OS frequently. and so i notice the relativity of these systems. and some work for some things and some for others... for instance if you are a positivist. if you are running 'positivism 4.0' you can't support UFO's. positivism 4.0 does not support ufo's. if on the other hand you're running [?] 5.1 as your OS, ufo's and a number of other things can get in through the door. that is what we would technically say is a more tolerant OS. or its plug-in supports special effects denied to the positivists. well it's fun to think this way because it shows you that you... you don't have to be a victim of your culture. it's not like your eye color or your height or your gender. it's fragile. it can be remade. if you wish it to be. and then the question is well, how does one download a new OS? well first of all you have to clear some space on your disk. the best way to do this is probably with a pharmacological agent. you think of some while i have a drink of water.
psilocybin is an excellent disk cleaner. you can put a lot of things in the trash and just disappear with a psilocybin upgrade. other pharmacological agents that will clear your disk are ayahuasca. and of course, these are gentle clearing of the disk which take 5, 6, 7 hours. if you are in a hurry to dump that old data and leap right into the new operation system, click on the button marked 'dimethyltriptamine'. a compressed disk erasure will immediately be downloaded, unstuffed, bin-hexed, implemented, installed, run and you will find yourself with an entirely different head.
now, shamans have always known, though they may not have used the kind of language i'm using here... shamans have always knowed this trick. what trick? it has two facets. first of all, that culture is an operation system. that's all it is. and that the operating system can be wiped out and replaced by something else. so essentially, what's going on among shamans and those who resort to them for curing and counseling and so forth... is a slightly more advanced operating system than the customer. the shaman is in possession of certain facts. about plants, about animals, about healing, about human psychology, about the local geography, about mojo of many different sorts, that the client is not aware of... the client is 'culture-lite'. the shaman paid for the registered and licensed version of the software and is running a much heavier version of the software than the client. i think we should all aspire to make this upgrade. it's very important that you have all the bells & whistles on your OS, otherwise somebody is going to get a leg up on you. well, what's wrong with the OS that we have? consumer capitalism 5.0 or whatever it is. well, it's DUMB. it's retro. it's very non-competitive. it's messy. it wastes the environment, it wastes human sources, it's inefficient, it runs on stereotypes, it runs on a low sampling rate which is what creates stereotypes, low sample rates make everybody appear alike, when in fact the glory is in everyone's differences... and the current OS is flawed. it actually has bugs in it. that generate contradictions. contradictions such as we're cutting the earth beneath our own feet. we're poisoning the atmosphere that we breathe. this is not intelligent behavior. this is a culture with a bug in its OS that's making it produce erratic, dysfunctional, malfunctional behavior. time to call the techs. and who are the techs? the shaman are the techs. so i think you get the idea. very important to upgrade your OS by dumping obsolete cultural subroutines. they are simply taking up disk space. they are not advancing you in any way whatsoever.
now, a very large group of people who followed this advice, and rebuilt their OS in the 1960's, went on then to build this most amazing of all cultural artifacts. the internet. the internet is light at the end of the tunnel. i don't care if it's being used to peddle pornography, i don't care if it's being trivialized in a thousand ways. ANYTHING can be trivialized. the important point is that it is levelling the playing field of global society. it is creating defacto, an entirely new set of political realities. none of the constipated oligarchic structures that are resisting this were ever asked. their greed betrayed them into investing in this in the first place. without ever fully grasping what the implications of it were for their larger agenda. the internet basically means you can now be free as you are motivated to be. as free as you dare to be. Tim Leary, years ago, it was something he used to say that never got quoted as much as 'turn on tune in drop out' but it seemed to me, it was maybe better advice. he used to say 'find the others, find the others'. well, if you're a gay kid in Fargo, North Dakota, if you're a mescaline enthusiast in Winnipeg, if you're a student of alchemy in moosejaw, community is pretty much out of reach for you. or it was, until the coming of the internet. and the internet introduces everybody no matter how weird, how marginalized, no matter how perculiar, to the fact that there are OTHERS LIKE YOU. that there are others like you. find the others. make common cause. realize that it's the deals you cut, and the friends you make, that determine where you're going to be standing when the flash hits.
so culture plays a game of simplification. if you can make people think alike, they will buy alike, they will worship alike, and if you know, if politics demands it, they will KILL alike. so the uniformatarian agenda of culture is not an agenda friendly to you, or to me, or to any other individual. and if you start out from that point of view, you will soon realize that culture is NOT your friend. now this is not exactly PC to say. what with everybody running around recovering their Latvian roots and their Irishness and whatever. culture is NOT your friend. if you define yourself as a member of a group, of any group, know that that is a gross simplification and that everything about you that is interesting and unique is betrayed by defining yourself in that way.
- Terence McKenna - _Light Of 3rd Millenium - Austin_ (20k)(82:15)