As a child, I loved to take things apart and try to put them together again. I’ve often been called a curious type. It wasn’t until high school that I finally had an opportunity to fully apply my curiosity towards computer systems. It wasn’t long until I found a whole sub culture of these curious types – they called themselves hackers.
Years later, commerce moved onto the blooming Internet and somehow the subculture of hackers became widely known as hooligans and criminals. This widely misunderstood and rather intellegent subculture I’d just started to know and love would never be the same again. I could discuss the topic at length, but this is not why I write.
This revolution in technology known as the Internet set our evolution in technology on high speed. Technology was suddenly a high priced corporate game. From my perspective, I saw once open doors slam shut as companies scramble to patent every idea possible and establish market power with proprietary standards and strict license agreements.
All the while, the often misunderstood world of open source was quietly on the rise. This culture of open minded software engineers differed slightly from the hacker community. The open source movement is organized. They established rich and well structured ethics that are strictly enforced through legal agreements such as the GNU Public License agreement. In a nutshell, all knowledge is freely and openly shared with all participants, so long as they too agree to share by the same rules.
This subculture of passionate developers have collectively created some of the most amazing software in the world. Most of the Internet runs on software systems built by this subculture. Over the years, the very companies that locked down their knowledge with patents and closed systems have stolen code from the open source community. Even the software giant known as Microsoft was repeated caught including open code in their operating systems and breaking the license agreements that came with it. Did you know that the entire operating system that runs every new Mac computer today was built on top of a free and open source system known as BSD?
Free and open knowledge works. Closed systems and proprietary knowledge slows us down. I believe this is true for much more than software. I believe that ideas and knowledge are meant to be shared. No one should “own” an idea. We pretend to have power over knowledge. In doing so, we keep ourselves in a primitive state.
We, humans, are slowly waking up. We’ve realized that our planet can only take so much abuse; so we’re working towards finding sustainable ways of living. We realize that our bodies need wholesome clean food; so we’re working towards finding sustainable ways of eating.
If we are going to evolve as an enlightened and noble creature, I believe we need to embrace the idea of intellectual sustainability. Instead of asking ourselves how an idea can bring us personal wealth and power, we should be asking ourselves how an idea can help make life better for all of us. Beyond this, we need to realize that to best serve the whole, everyone should have equal rights to learn, contribute to, and help grow our body of knowledge. We are, after all, in this together.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.