Opinion: open source means to be open about the source of knowledge that enables anyone to make something

Eventually, we will all get bored of seeing technology being depicted as either the saviour or the Lucifer of our own existence. There are only so many articles on the wonders of technological progress one could possibly digest and only so many episodes of Black Mirror to tell us how messed up our lives could get in the near future. When that time comes, we will begin to seriously consider the fact that technology is not just a tool or a service, but a medium through which individual and social identities can shape and be shaped.

But what remains unexplained for now is why such a shaping power is blindly handed over and over again to private corporations regardless of the number of times they have misused it. We also need to explain why we keep pointing the finger at big tech corporations for the way things are, while also expecting them to solve the mess they enabled. 

Delegating responsibilities to others will only perpetuate the problem, not resolve it. Pretending to solve the issue by addressing the psychosis of tech giants is likely to be a lost cause. We, on the other hand, could be better off addressing our own Stockholm syndrome

From RTÉ Lyric FM's Culture File, Open Source Aran Sweater is a project to create an archive of Aran knitting 

For that, open source culture is likely to be the most effective, if not the only, therapy. Open source means to be open about the source of knowledge that enables anyone to make something. With regard to technology, one important element of that source, but certainly not the only one, is represented by the code used to generate a given piece of software, AKA the source code.

But you would be mistaken to think that the ability to read and write code is a necessary requirement to access this alternative technological world. In fact, open source should be understood in its broader sense of open knowledge. Should one wish, everyone can contribute in many ways such as by sharing, translating and editing instructions, creating tutorials and engaging with the ethical issues at stake in our technological society. Contrary to how things were 30 years ago, open source software is today as user-friendly and good-looking as any other proprietary and close-source counterpart. The ability to read and write code is certainly useful, but not necessary when using open source alternatives.

Realising that technology is a social endeavour makes its communal ownership and development a necessity. The alternative would be reading series like Black Mirror as prophecies rather than high quality entertainment (yes, I am a big fan of Black Mirror, just in case it was missed).

If education is about enabling individuals to grow as free thinkers and responsible citizens, the adoption of open source technology within universities is a must

Creating the fertile ground for the flourishing of such an open culture cannot be left to chance. It must be actively sought and defended by society at large. Educational institutions, from primary schools to universities, have a big responsibility in that regard. They should be guarantors for the accessibility and openness of knowledge and despise the idea of a "used-user". I leave you to judge if this is the case today. In my experience as an academic, universities are light-years away from even considering this as an issue, let alone considering their role in it.

There are no compromises here. If education is about knowledge and enabling individuals to grow as free thinkers and responsible citizens, the adoption of open source technology within universities is a must. The Humboltian model of holistic education comes once again to the fore as one of the most sensible to follow. 

The International Conference on Live coding takes place at the University of Limerick from February 5th to 7th and is an example of how a community of artists shapes itself through the open source culture. Attendance is free of charge


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ