Session 7.2: The Very Best of (the) New Order: Agency, Ethos, and the Return of the 80’s in Open-Source and Open-Author Information Economies
Antonio Ceraso (Pennsylvania State University), Jeff Pruchnic (Wayne State University), Abram Anders (Pennsylvania State University)
Antonio Ceraso began this session by defining what period is meant when all three presenters will discuss the 80s and how that time period relates to open source software. The time period is here defined as the 20 year period between the late 70s and then alternately the burst of the .coms, a variety of Wall Street scandals, or even 9/11. This time period was marked by increasing power of markets, corporate buyouts, and intensified privatization of the value of the personal.
Open source software can trace its roots to this period. The movement glorifies the days when there was no corporatization of software, when the corporation was there purely to “smooth over the financial stuff.” Open source software today, however, plays out a kind of cultural privatization. It is seen as small, private, and intimate, driven by self-empowered moments. Despite this, companies like Microsoft are finding ways to turn a profit off of open-source software business models.
Jeff Pruchnic began his presentation by discussing the way guilt strategies are used in foregrounding difference for those in power. For example, conservatives claim to have been marginalized on college campuses and have a “coming out” day all of their own. He connected this to the way that open source and online software is niche marketed. Esquire Magazine notes, for example, that “the rich don’t YouTube.” Some softwares, systems, and campuses are clearly seen as “below” the rich, the conservative—whether or not that is actually the case. He noted cases of corporations giving massive amounts of money to charity (or selling shoes branded specifically to show that one has given money to charity through them). He also referred to wikis as “tools of mass collaboration.” These new posters online don’t threaten to riot—instead, they threaten to rewrite our understandings of agency and resistance in their entirety.
Abram Anders presented, then, on people demanding their own right to be enslaved in the process of making media. Earlier, Jeff Pruchnic had noted that Second Life employs millions of users in doing simple tasks—painting, art, topiary—that amounts to thousands of hours of free labor each week. In many ways, Anders’s idea that we are enslaved by these systems is clearly linked. Individuals wish to be involved in the process of “mucking with media” and dislike being locked out.
His most recent example was that when HD DVD makes noted that their disks were encrypted and could not be ripped for sharing online and elsewhere, an intrepid hacker nearly immediately broke the code and posted it to Digg.com. The code was nearly immediately removed for fear of reprisal against the cracked DRM, but users flooded the system with it and produced t-shirts to show their support for the code being cracked. Users are simply not happy being left out of the process of how technology works and is produced—and it’s not only because they wish to steal or illegally reproduce movies, software, or music. Open source software satisfies this need while using the users labor for free—is this really slavery?