Building the Argument

I was talking to my grandmother (Hi!) last week, as I do most weeks, and we discussed the blog. She's been a regular reader of the site for many years, and lately, we've enjoyed digging a little deeper into some of the things that I've written about here. She said, I think of the Owning Bits, and I agree, that it sort of seemed that I was building something... more.

But of course.

I don't know that I've connected all of the dots, either in my head or on the blog, but I think that the things I've been blogging about for the last year or so are all conected, interwoven, and illuminate incredibly interesting features of each other when considered as a whole. There is "something building" here. To recap, so that we're on the same page, the nexus of subjects that I've been milling over are:

  • Free Software and Open Source Software Development.

I'm interested in how communities form around these projects, how work is accomplished, both technically, and organizationally. I'm interested in how innovation happens or is stifled. How the communities are maintained, started, and lead. From a social and economic perspective there's something fundamentally unique happening in this domain, and I'd like to learn a lot more about what those things are.

This topic and area of thought have taken a backseat to other questions more recently, but I think it's fundamentally the core question that I'm trying to address at the moment. I think that I'm going to be making a larger point of addressing open source methodologies in the coming weeks and months as part of an attempt to pull things back together. I think.

I started writing about the IT industry because I found itreally difficult to think about Free Software without really knowing about the context of free software. One really needs to understand the entire ecosystem in order to really make sense of what open source means (and doesn't mean.) Particularly in this day and age. Initially I was particularly interested in the Oracle/Sun Merger, and the flap around the ownership of MySQL; but since then, I think I've branched out a little bit more.

I've tried very hard to not frame the discussion about the IT industry and open source as a "community" versus "enterprise" discussion, or as being "free" versus "non-free," or worse "free" versus "commercial." These are unhelpful lenses, as Free Software and Open Source are incredibly commercial, and incredibly enterprise-centric phenomena, once you get past the initial "what do you mean there's no cost or company behind this thing."

In the same way that thinking about the IT Industry provides much needed context for properly understanding why "open source communities" exist and persist: thinking about how we actually use technology, how we relate to techno-social phenomena, and how these relationships, interfaces, and work-flows are changing. Both in changing response to technology, and changing the technology itself. It's all important, and I think the very small observations are as useful as the very large observations.

In some respects, certainly insofar as I've formulated the Cyborg Institute, the "cyborg" moment can really be seen as the framing domain, but that doesn't strike me a distinction that is particularly worth making.

Interestingly, my discussion of cooperatives and corporate organization began as a "pro-queer rejection of gay marriage," but I've used it as an opportunity to think about the health care issue, as a starting point in my thinking regarding EconomyFail-2008/09. The economics of open source and Free Software are fascinating, and very real and quite important, and I found myself saying about six months ago that I wished I knew more about economics. Economics was one of those overly quantitative things in college that I just totally avoided because I was a hippie (basically.)

While it could be that my roots are showing, more recently I've come to believe that it's really difficult to understand any social or political phenomena without thinking about the underlying economics. While clearly I have opinions, and I'm not a consummate economic social scientist, I do think that thinking about the economics of a situation is incredibly important.

I've been blogging for a long time. And I'm a writer. And I want to write and publish fiction as a part of my "career," such as it is. As you might imagine these factors make me incredibly interested in the future of publishing of "content," and of the entire nexus of issues that relate to the notion of "new media."

Creative Commons shows us that there has been some crossover between ideas that originated in the "open source" world with "content" (writ large.) The future of publishing and media is a cyborg issue, an ultimately techno-social phenomena, and thinking about the technology. that underpins the new media is really important. And of course, understanding the economic context of the industry that's built around content is crucial.

So what's this all building to? Should I write some sort of monograph on the subject? Is there anyone out there who might want to fund a grad student on to do research on these subjects in a few years?

The problem my work here so far--to my mind--is that while I'm pretty interested in the analysis that I've been able to construct, I'm not terribly satisfied with my background, and with the way that I've been largely unable to cite my intellectual heritage for my ideas and thoughts. I never studied this stuff in school, I have a number of books of criticism, potentially relevant philosophy, and important books in Anthropology (which seems to fit my interests and perspectives pretty well.) I'm pretty good at figuring things out, but I'm acutely aware of a lacking in my work of reference, methodology, and structure. As well as of any sort of empirical practice.

So maybe that's my project for the next year, or the next few months at any rate: increase rigor, read more, consider new texts, pay more attention to citations, and develop some system for doing more empirical work.

We'll see how this goes. I'd certainly appreciate feedback here. Thanks!

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