Is this class about advocating openness

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Aaron Sokoloff: I guess I'll start this one off. I definitely agree with Art that joining the class itself should not be a statement that one supports openness. 2 reasons:

1. I think this misstates the point of the academic experience in general, which is to reflect on outside phenomena as objectively as possible, not to support a particular view.

2. This is not an issue that lends itself to easy answers. "Openness" might be a good thing in the abstract, but it is a value that inevitably bumps up against other values. Today, it bumped up against the values of personal integrity (i.e. Rebecca Nesson's keeping her word to the MIT folks) and respect for the authors of the thing of value (a more resonant point when the authors are nearby human engineers as opposed to anonymous corporations). Moreover, the value that is probably at the greatest odds with openness is privacy - a value that many perceive as threatened by networked systems in a variety of ways. How can we support privacy and openness as causes at the same time if their meanings are in such strong opposition?

Rebecca Nesson: I couldn't agree more with both Art and Aaron. My purpose is not to conscript you in my beliefs, nor am I willing to be conscripted in the beliefs of others. In a sense, this is the fundamental self-governance concept. We have a responsibility to ourselves to choose our own beliefs. This class is an exploration of openness and an argument for balance. We advocate balance, between the state and self-governance, between the open and the closed. In my opinion, we are far from balance now. The public domain is making a small comeback and I want to shine a light on it. Until we get a lot closer to the yin and yang existing together, I'll keep advocating openness.

Andrae Muys: I see this course as having three aspects focused around the presupposition of the existence of a networked information economy and peer-production.

  1. What are the properties of a networked information economy? How does peer-production operate? What is their history, where did they come from? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these modes of production? What forces exist that might threaten any potentially sustainable future for these models. Long-term, can they co-exist with a traditional industrial economy?
  2. From a public policy perspective, are these emerging models desirable? What effects (if any) on our existing political and social structures and relationships might be expected as a result of any increase/decrease in the influence, extent, success, or failure of these models? What (if anything) can/should/are we - as individuals, as organisations, as communities, as governments - be doing to affect the future of these models within our economy, and our society.
  3. From a personal perspective, how do we interact with the new social spaces and discourses that have emerged associated with these modes. Is there an opportunity for us to use this 'rhetorical space' to advance argument, is it possible to use this space to affect the offline world? If so, what constraints exist that limit this influence? What are the properties of effective uses of this space?

Only the first of these fit your demand for a disassociation from any advocacy for or against 'openness'. our reasoning and conclusions regarding the second aspect must in necessarially form an argument advocating a position. Naturally one should endeavour to reason objectively, but if we are indeed to answer the question "Are these things desirable?", we must eventually adopt a position that, fundamentally is advocacy.

Regarding 'openness' itself. It is important not to conflate different definitions. I won't claim the list to be exhaustive, but consider the distinctions between:

  1. Openness as transparency
  2. Openness as accessibility
  3. Openness as receptivity

I would also consider it reasonable for a distinction to be drawn between openness in an individual's affairs, and in public affairs. After all, doesn't the US Constitution do precisely that.

Aaron Sokoloff: Andrae - I don't disagree that we can eventually make judgments on the desirability of these systems. But I think there's a difference between coming to these opinions individually after a semester of analyzing this stuff, versus assuming that we've already collectively made this value judgment.

Andrae Muys: Aaron - I appologise for the abiguity, I should have made it clearer that I completely agree with the opening statement. I just disagreed with aspects of the two points that followed it. I don't accept that objectivity implies non-advocacy; and I believe your discussion of openness both conflates multiple orthoginal meanings, and failed to consider the posibility of reasonably distinguishing between public and private 'openness'. Now given the nature of the CyberOne course, a discussion (or even a debate) of these issues is apropos.

Therefore to continue in this vein, I am inclined to outline my own thoughts on openness as an essential foundation for liberty. However it is now 0130 here, so I will restrict myself alusions and leave detail for later. I would otherwise wish to discuss the concept of transparency and accessibility as regards secret laws; Law as state-mandated norms; constrast state enforeced norms with socially and technically enforced norms (lessig style); attempt to make the argument that the impact of 'secret norms' on our society is (can be?) comparable to that of secret law.

Art Samuels: Just to take the conversation in a slightly different direction, it seems to me that the openness question is one that can truly be looked at from a bunch of different perspectives, and maybe requires us to try and put ourselves in other's shoes. Our discussion about the ethics of making the Scratch software "open," led us there, but I feel like there was still an undertone that the company producing scratch was somehow "virtuous" because they were eventually planning to make the software open, they just didn't want to do it right now. But certainly couldn't there be virtue in keeping things private? This has been what our IP regime has been based on, and probably (at least it seems like this is what Nesson thinks) has spun out of control, but I don't know that this means scrapping the whole thing. Just because the virtual world can be a place for non-market motiviations to thrive, must that mean we also throw the market motivations out with the virtual bathwater? Thinking from the perspective of a musician, or an artist, or a programmer, if I created something really awesome/beautiful/useful that a lot of people were using, I'd want to get paid. Landlords don't accept "I feel good because I made something cool that a lot of people are using."

Jordan Bleicher This is in response to Aaron’s second point. I think that one of the big challenges of this course is for us to try to figure out what the best undestanding of openness is. Part of what might make one understanding more appealing than another would be if it allowed us to give the demands of other values (Aaron mentions privacy and personal integrity) their due. But if the way we think about openness is itself shaped by how we feel about other values, then maybe there won’t be so many conflicts after all. Putting things more concretely – maybe we assume Rebecca’s commitment to the MIT folks “bumped up” against her commitment to openness only because we haven’t thought enough about what openness really means.

Alternatively, Aaron might be right and values like privacy and openness might be in strong opposition. But even if they are, I’m not sure that it’s wrong for a professor to lead a course according to one and not the other. What if making a choice becomes unavoidable?

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