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Re: <nettime> the next layer or the emergence of open source culture
Kimberly De Vries on Wed, 21 Feb 2007 05:22:27 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> the next layer or the emergence of open source culture


On 2/17/07, Armin Medosch <armin {AT} easynet.co.uk> wrote:

> hi nettimers, I wonder what you think about this ...
> armin
>
> The Next Layer or: The Emergence of Open Source Culture
>
> Draft text for Pixelache publication, Armin Medosch, London/Vienna 2006
> - 2007
>
>
> First we had media art. In the early days of electronic and digital
> culture media art was an important way of considering relationships
> between society and technology, suggesting new practices and cultural
> techniques. It served as an outlet for the critique of the dark side of
> computer culture's roots in the military-industrial complex; and it
> suggested numerous utopian and beautiful ways of engagement with
> technology, new types of interactivity, sensuous interfaces,
> participative media practices, for instance. However, the more critical,
> egalitarian and participative branches of media art tended to be
> overshadowed by the advocacy of a high-tech and high-art version of it.
> This high-media art conceptually merged postmodern media theories with
> the techno-imaginary from computersciences and new wave cybernetics.
> Uncritical towards capitalisms embrace of technology as provider of
> economic growth and a weirdly paradoxical notion of progress, high-media
> art was successful in institutionalizing itself and finding the support
> of the elites but drew a lot of criticism from other quarters of
> society. It stuck to the notion of the artist as a solitary genius who
> creates works of art which exist in an economy of scarcity and for which
> intellectual ownership rights are declared.
>
>
> In the course of the 1990ies media art was superseded by what I call The
> Next Layer or, for help of better words, Open Source Culture. I am not
> claiming that the hackers who are the key protagonists of Open Source
> Culture are the new media artists. Such a claim would be rubbish as
> their work, their ways of working and how it is referenced is distinct
> from media art. I simply say that media art has become much less
> relevant through the emergence of The Next Layer. In the Next Layer many
> more protagonists come together than in the more narrowly defined field
> of media art. It is much less elitist and it is not based on exclusivity
> but on inclusion and collaboration. Instead of relying on ownership of
> ideas and control of intellectual property Open Source Culture is
> testing the limits if a new egalitarian and collaborative culture.

Later on you acknowledge the historical root, which I think enriches
your discussion.  Here though, it sounds like you are saying that Open
Source sprang forth in the 90s, without precedent, which I think you
don't mean.  So you might want to add some line that foreshadows your
historical discussion.  --But on the other hand, this is me
deliberately reading as an impatient American, who expects everything
to be laid out step by step with absolute explicitness.  So clarifying
this small point may not be very important, depending on the intended
audience.

> In the following paragraphs I would like to map out some of the key
> components of Open Source Culture. It has been made possible by the rise
> of Free, Libre and Open Source Software. Yet Open Source Culture is
> about much more than just writing software. Like any real culture it is
> based on shared values and a community of people.
>
>
> Open Source Culture is about creating new things, be they software,
> artefacts or social platforms. It therefore embraces the values inherent
> to any craft and it cherishes the understanding and mastery of the
> materials and the production processes involved. Going beyond
> craftmanship and being 'open source', it advocates free access to the
> means of production (instead of just "ownership" of them). Creativity is
> not just about work but about playfulness, experimentation and the joy
> of sharing. In Open Source Culture everybody has the chance to create
> immaterial and material things, express themselves, learn, teach, hear
> and be heard.
>
>
> Open Source Culture is not a tired version of enforced collectivism and
> old fashioned speculations about the 'death of authorship'. It is not a
> culture where the individual vanishes but where the individual remains
> visible and is credited as a contributor to a production process which
> can encompass one, a few or literally thousands of contributors.
>
>
> Fundamental to Open Source Culture's value system is the belief that
> knowledge should be in the public domain. What is generally known by
> humans should be available to all humans so that society as a whole can
> prosper. For most parts and whereever possible, this culture is based on
> a gift economy. Each one gets richer by donating their work to a growing
> pool of publicly available things. This is not a misguided form of
> altruism but more like a beneficial selfishness. Engaged in a sort of
> friendly competition everyone is pushing the whole thing forward a bit
> by trying to do something that is better, faster, more beuatiful or
> imaginative. Open Source Culture is a culture of conversation and as
> such based on multiple dialogues on different layers of language, code
> and artefacts. But the key point is that the organisation of labour is
> based on the self-motivated activity of many individuals and not on
> managerial hierarchies and 'shareholder value'.
>
>
> Open Source Culture got a big push forward with the emergence of Linux
> and the Internet but we shouldn't forget that it has much deeper roots.
> History didn't start with Richard Stallmans problems with a printer
> driver. The historic roots could be seen as going back to the free and
> independent minded revolutionary artists and artisans in 19th century.
> More recently, it is based on post-World-War-II grassroots
> anti-imperialist liberation movements, on bottom-up self-organised
> culture of the new political movements of the 1960ies and 1970ies such
> as the African American civil rights movements, feminisim, lesbian, gay,
> queer and transgender movements, on the first and second wave of hacker
> culture, punk and the DIY culture, squatter movements, and the left-wing
> of critical art and media art practices.
>
>
> In terms of the political economy, Open Source Culture could mark an
> important point of departure, by liberating the development of new
> technologies from being dictated by capital. The decision of what should
> be developed for which social goals is taken by the developers
> themselves. Technological development is not driven by greed but by deep
> intrinsic motivations to create things and to be recognized for ones
> contribution. Despite that, Open Source Culture is not an
> anti-capitalist ideology per se but has the potential to change
> capitalism from within and is already doing so.
>
>
> Open Source Culture needs to be constantly aware of capitalisms
> propensity to adapt, adopt, co-opt and subjugate progressive movements
> and ideas to its own goals. The 'digital revolution' was already stolen
> once by the right-wing libertarians from Wired and their republican
> allies such as Newt Gingrich and the posse of American cyber-gurus from
> George Gilder to Nicholas Negroponte. More recently adept Open Source
> Capitalists have used terms such as Web 2.0 and social software to
> disguise the fact that what those terms are said to describe has emerged
> from open source culture and the net culture of the 1990ies and the
> early 2000s. Once more the creativity of the digital masses is exploited
> by alliances between new and old tycoons. The Next Layer emerges at a
> time when capitalism is stronger than ever before and it emerges at the
> very heart of it. This is the beauty of it. It cannot be described in a
> language of mainstream and underground. Open Source Culture is the new
> mainstream which is what capitalist media are doing their best to hide,
> scared by the spectre of communism as well as commonism. We don't need
> to ressort to the language of the Cold War and its dichotomies, howver.

Here you sound a little paranoid --I agree about what has often
happened, but I don't think it's always really so organized and
deliberate.  Frankly, most businesses (even as they claim to be so
"lean") have so many incompetent people in them, it's a little
embarrassing that capitalism is so successful.

> The Next Layer contains not only a promise but also a threat. It emerges
> at a time when the means of suppression and control have been increased
> by rightwing leaders who try to scare us into believing we were engaged
> in an endless 'war on terror'. With their tactics they have managed to
> speed up the creation of a technological infrastructure for a society of
> control. The general thrust of technological development is coming from
> inside a paranoiac mindset. 25 years of neo-liberalism in the American
> lead empire have degraded civil liberties and human values. The
> education system has been turned into a sausage factory where engineers
> are turned out who construct their own digital panopticons. Scary new
> nano- and bio-technologies are created in secret laboratories by Big
> Science. And the bourgeioise intelligentsia meanwhile has stood still
> and does not recognize the world any more but still controls theatres,
> publishing and universities. In this situation it is better if Open
> Source Culture is not recognized as a political movement. The Next Layer
> will find ways of growing and expanding stealthily by filling the
> niches, nooks and crannies of a structurally militant and imperialist
> repressive regime from which, given time, it will emerge like a clear
> spring at the bottom of a murky glacier.

Well, give how poorly American students are (allegedly) doing in
science, maybe this threat has a limited future, in the US, that is.
But I wonder, if remaining unrecognized is so important, wouldn't it
be better not to draw attention with articles like this?  I hope this
doesn't sound like heckling, but in fact large corporations and also
some political groups have really gone after people/companies/groups
they saw as threats.  Should we actually behave in a more
conspiratorial way in order to protect the Open Source movement?

Anyway, it sounds interesting.  When do you expect it to be finished
and released?

Thanks,

Kim

> * The Next Layer is a book project by Armin Medosch about Open Source
> Culture. It has been supported by Franz Xaver and the Medienkunstlabor
> Graz in 2006. Passages of this text are informed by an extensive study
> into free software hackers and open source activists. Materials will be
> released in due time at http://theoriebild.ung.at/
 <...>


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