[iDC] Shirky's Here Comes Everybody and Leadbeater's We-Think...

Jon Ippolito jippolito at umit.maine.edu
Sun Jun 8 22:03:54 UTC 2008

Thanks, Pat, for passing on this review--a delayed reply:

idc at mailman.thing.net on April 14, 2008 at 8:00 AM -0400 wrote:
[Charles Leadbeater]
> reminds us, some areas ? such as care services ? won't be  
>affected by We-Think: "you cannot change a wet nappy with a text  
>message". Nor harvest food, nor extract minerals, nor generate  
>energy. Although the participatory structure of the web was founded  
>by a singular mix of values ("the academic, the hippie, the peasant  
>and the geek"), there's no guarantee that happy ethos will guide all  
>behaviour within its halls.
>Are we ready for open-source biology, for example ? a process of mass  
>innovation based on our "sharing" of the genomic code? Do we want pro- 
>ams in their garages fooling around with viruses and proteins, or  
>accredited professionals? There are under-theorised questions of  
>governance and control (and, maybe more importantly, self-control) in  
>web culture. Leadbeater is right to alert us to them.
I agree that we need to think more about what we might call "information governance," and that self-control (or better Do It Yourself governance) is the right approach. That said, I think a close look at the model of open software offers more than
the simplistic "information wants to be free" paradigm.

Almost every commentator who tries to explain the mechanics behind open software's success emphasizes the freedoms mandated by "copyleft" licenses such as the GPL. The GPL is a brilliant social and legal innovation, but it is only one of two
fundamental protocols responsible for the phenomenal growth of GNU/Linux, Firefox, and the rest. Look deeper at the way open software coders actually build these tools, and toiling away in GPL's shadow you'll find techniques of digital signature
like PGP. 

Both GPL and PGP are viral protocols, but the former is a legal protocol that stimulates sharing, while the latter is a social protocol for stimulating trust. I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing my genetic code with any old government or
corporation, but neither would Linus Torvalds share a password to the Linux kernal with any old C programmer. Your digital signature identifies you as a developer trusted to check out a code module; through interlocking digital signatures called
Webs of Trust, it also helps translate the trust you place in your immediate circle to a wider social network.

So information may not want to be free, nor may it want to be copyrighted. However, as Joline Blais has written, it may require care--and Webs of Trust are one model for this.
>He holds out the tantalising  
>prospect that these soft, pliable new tools from the master might be  
>more enthusiastically grasped and applied by developing countries  
>than by our own.
If my claim above is correct, then we should not be surprised if indigenous peoples show an intuitive grasp of trust protocols beyond our own--since their ceremonies of inclusion predate PGP by scores of millennia. And they do indeed use these
protocols to harvest food.


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