“Share and share alike” is the message parents drum into children. But once they grow up and move out into the wider world, the shutters come down. We’re trained to be closed.
Dave Lane, president of the New Zealand Open Source Society, says that explains the discomfort people find when they first encounter the open world.
Speaking at the Open Source, Open Society conference in Wellington, Lane says: “When the default position is closed, openness doesn’t always feel right”. At least not at first.
What do we mean when we say open?
Lane set out to explain what we mean when we use the term in the open source, open society context.
He says the marketeers have learnt to abuse the term. “Open is used like low fat or natural. It is stretched and distorted to meet proprietary interests”.
He says: “Transparency is important and necessary to openness, but on its own, it is not enough. It is a passive thing, it means you can see what is going on, how something works. What you need to know is how it works and why things are done that way”.
Not just see. Do.
Openness is allergic to attempts to control. It’s widely understood that the internet can route around censorship and other attempts as closing it down.
Lane says openness is about letting people scratch their itch:
“Open means aiding and encouraging the human urge to share, explore and improve. That sharing is irrevocable, and is not limited by precautionary measures or dependent on permission from some presiding power.
“Anything that thwarts peoples’ desire to share, explore, and improve is closed, not open.”
Lane says people like sharing. They buy-in to the idea when they have something to offer. “If you have an idea you can realise it and take it to the world”.
In this context, openness is not a new idea. Lane says perhaps the best example of what it means is an idea that has been around for more than 100 years: The public library.
He says: “The idea flies in the face of conventional wisdom”, but it has proved remarkably success and resiliant.