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[ox] Konferenz-Beitrag: On the Links Between Open Source and Culture

On the Links Between Open Source and Culture

Kim Veltman [K.Veltman MMI.UNIMAAS.NL]

The Internet has at least five consequences:

1.   technological (invisibility);

2.   material (virtuality);

3.   organizational (systemicity);

4.   intellectual (contextuality) and

5.   philosophical (spirituality).

Most discussions of the Internet focus on the first three
consequences. This lecture focusses on the last two.

Major advances in civilization typically entail a change in medium,
which increases greatly the scope of what can be shared. Havelock[1]
noted that the shift from oral to written culture entailed a dramatic
increase in the amount of knowledge shared and led to a
re-organization of knowledge. McLuhan[2] and Giesecke[3] explored what
happened when Gutenberg introduced print culture in Europe. The
development of printing went hand in hand with the rise of early
modern science. In the sixteenth century, the rise of vernacular
printing helped spread new knowledge. From the mid-seventeenth century
onwards this again increased as learned correspondance became the
basis for a new category of learned journals (Journal des savants,
Journal of the Royal Society, Göttinger Gelehrten Anzeiger etc.),
whence expressions such as the "world of letters."

The advent of Internet marks a radical increase in this trend towards
sharing. Conservative estimates claim that there are over 7 million
new pages per day with over 2.1 billion pages in all. Some claim that
there are over 550 billion pages on the Internet. The Internet began
as a new method for sharing in the sciences, particularly physics and
astronomy and is now becoming essential for advances in the life
sciences and especially in emerging fields such as the human genome
project and biotechnology.

While many focus on the financial side of Internet some of its most
amazing consequences have been in fields where no financial gain is
entailed. Particularly interesting is a project called the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In this project volunteers make
available the time that their computer usually has a screen saver and
this time is used to process data and possible information concerning
outer space. On July 30, 2000, for instance there were 2096 new
volunteers and a total of 2,192,077 persons made their computer
available for the SETI project. It is striking that this produced a
combined power of 11.17 trillion operations/second (or
teraflops/second). The largest supercomputer in the world at the time,
ASCI White produced 12.3 teraflops per second. Hence, the amount of
computational power produced by volunteers without extra cost is close
to that produced by a machine, which costs over $100 million.

This leads to some interesting insights. If 1 million volunteers
produce 5.5 teraflops, then if all 407 million computers which existed
at the end of 2000 were used on a voluntary basis then there would be
2,238.5 teraflops available, which is 34.7 times more than the
combined computational power of the top 500 supercomputers in July of
2000. This relates only to computers being used when their screen
savers are functioning during their time-off. The ASCI White computer
has a power of 30,000 PCs. This means that the world's 407 million PCs
at the end of 2,000 were theoretically 13,566 more powerful than ASCI
white capable of a total of 167,861.8 trillion or 167.8 quadrillion
operations/second. If current predictions hold and there are 2.4
billion PCs by 2006, this potential computational power would increase
to 847.8 quadrillion operations and if one follows other predictions,
which claim that the power of computers will increase by a million
times within 20 years, then one would have a figure of
847,882,000,000. This makes the 64.3 teraflops of the top 500
computers in mid-2000 look rather weak or rather, it confirms that the
real revolution is still to come.

Linux has had an enormous impact on the world of software. There are
now an estimated 250,000 persons active in the open source movement,
with 37% in Europe. When printing began in Germany, it was largely out
of a conviction that this was for the public good. Interestingly
enough Germany is also the most active contributor to Open Source.

At one level, the term spiritual has to do with the non-material. The
spiritual also entails doing something beyond oneself. In this sense,
the spiritual entails everything that fosters sharing. Hence, the
Internet as a new source of sharing, is fundamentally about
spirituality. To be sure there are movements in America which would
have us believe that the Internet has enormous implications for the
time we are at work from 9-5 and that the Internet is inherently and
mainly about money making materialism. This view overlooks that there
are 24 hours in our day and that it can hardly be true that life is
about work only. Money-making may be important but if there is no time
to spend it then 'tis a rather boring exercise.

In this context, thinkers such as Eric Raymond distinguish between the
Cathedral and the Bazaar[4]. He rightly argues that there is a
distinction to be made between exchange culture and gift culture. In
his view cathedrals were top down, elitist, organizations. In fact,
they were typically constructed through a co-operation of a majority
of persons in towns and cities. Hence, while Raymond's distinctions
are right, the terms of opposition need to be reversed: ultimately the
gift culture of cathedrals needs to be opposed to the exchange culture
of bazaars and not conversely.

On the surface, culture may seem far removed from all this, although
most would agree that cathedrals such as Chartres or Cologne, produced
by sharing are also part of our shared culture. On reflection,
however, culture too is essentially about sharing: the paintings,
sculptures, theatre, dance, music are effectively multi-media
commentaries on the great religious (Bible, Shanahmah, Mahabharata,
Ramayana etc.) and literary (Iliad, Odyssey, Tale of Gengi, Three
Kingdoms) texts and as such are related to that which we share

Advances in culture occur when the expressions of things shared
increase using visual, auditory or other senses as shown in the
schematic list.

Ten elements leading to an increased repertoire of shared cultural

1.   (Totem) Objects connecting with Actions of Gods

2.   Patterns (Ornament) connecting with Actions of Gods

3.   Idealized Actions of Gods

4.   Idealized Actions of Saints

5.   Idealized Actions of Heroes

6.   Universal Actions (Four Seasons, Seven Ages of Man)

7.   Everyday Actions (Work, Play, Dance, Eat, Drink, Read, Paint)

8.   Exotic Actions

9.   Idealized Dreams

10.  Dreams and Nightmares

Implicit in all this is that there are profound links between
developments in culture and the rise of open source, that both are
stimulating a new kind of sharing. Some would go further and claim
that hackers in the virtuous sense are a new kind of lay monk. The
lecture will explore these parallels between the sharing of culture
and the sharing of open source and claim that there needs to be an
open source approach to culture; that there are philosophical reasons
why culture has traditionally been in the public sphere, and that the
developments of open source can lead to new sources of spirituality in
a larger sense.


[1] Eric Havelock, Preface to Plato, Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press,
Harvard University Press, 1963.

[2] Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy. The Making of Typographic
Man, Toronto: Univeristy of toronto Press, 1962.

[3] Michael Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit. Eine
historsiche Fallstudie über die Durchsetzung neuer Informations- und
Kommunikationstechnologien, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991.

[4] Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral & the Bazaar. Musings on Linux and
Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, Cambridge Mass.: O'Reilly,

Organisation: projekt

[English translation]
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