The discourse of the free

I find open source information and crowd sourcing knowledge compelling ideas.  They make knowledge a public good and can have the benefit of being non-hierarchical.  The theory is that we all can share, contribute and learn, which is great.  The enthusiasm with which the sharing of such knowledge is often discussed can be infectious.  I have just read through the bios of 12 “Tech Innovators” in the The Chronicle of Higher Education.  The innovations include: using mobile phones for classroom learning; employing cloud computing to upgrade software; getting the online community too peer review manuscripts; making technology more accessible and cheaper through mass negotiations; and so on.  All highly laudable achievements that required imagination, innovation and risk.  The Chronicle, while celebrating their innovations, does address some of the shortfalls of these or looks at how some may have started as free and open-accesss and then became commercialised.  The Chronicle‘s focus isn’t on their economics, but rather a celebration of innovations and new ideas. 

For me, I think it’s the can-do attitude that is infectious, compelling, yet has me somewhat wary.  My concern is not with the work that many of these people are doing, which I largely celebrate, in particular those by fellow Humanists Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Daniel J. Cohen, but with the language that often is used to discuss their work and the discourse of the marketplace that often surrounds them. 

My reservations share some ground with those of Nathan Jurgenson in his blog post “Against Ted”.  Whilst, I don’t agree with all that he says, I want to repeat his question here, “Where is there space to reach larger publics without having to take on the role of a salesperson, preacher, or self-help guru?”.  Can we find a new language to talk about and celebrate these gains?  Where is the crowd and the non-hierarchical thinking when we still operate within structures that require us to commemorate singularity and individual prowess?

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