Openness means quite a number of things to me.
It means openness to, and availabilitiy for dissent, argument, proof and disproof.
It means open dissemination.
It means freely adaptable.
It means accessible to, and changeable by, influence.
It means available to, and changeable by new ideas, information, experiences or contexts.
It means in the process of decision, and not yet decided.
It means not charged for, and without cost.
It means someone else might be paying.
It means different things, at different times, in different contexts.
But it is always, I think, the openness of Interfaces
The crossroads of cultures
In Medici Florence, it meant receptivity. Receptivity to the new emigres from the Fall of Byzantium, and the old and new knowledges that travelled with them. The knowledge of Greek, the new translations of old texts, handed down from Greece. The new knowledge of Arabic science that also travelled with them. And that such receptivity meant that Della Mirandolla’s new concept of the human, as overleaping the angels in the hierarchy of things by the force and power of our reason, could sit cheek by jowl at the same dining table with DaVinci, Michaelangelo, and Brunelleschi.
From such openess, and the wealth to indulge it, from the library of Cosimo deMedici, from the seat of Greek he paid for, from the Bishop of Byzantium, and his bags of books and scholarly tongue, from his dining table and those he was patron to, came some of the new knowledge that would infuse a sense of ourselves into a Europe about to be irretrievably altered by the experience. Paid for by the money of merchants and bankers.
Or, in the building of Venice, and the importation of engineers, ideas, art and experience, again from Byzantium, to build domes, and manufacture artefacts whose crafting had been lost for five centuries. This new crossroads created opportunity, curiosity, and interfaces for the spread of new and old ideas. Again, paid for by merchants.
Here then, is the openness of the interface, where world’s that are separate, distinct, though not unrelated, collide, collapse, and ideas exchange across the permeable filters to crosspollinate, take root, and perhaps thrive in new soils more ready to bear the fruit of revolutions.
The enthusiasts, and the culture of enthusiasm.
The gentlemen enthusiasts of the Enlightenment, paid for by patrons, or by Royal charter, or by their own moneyed position, and their competition with each other, as individuals, as nations, as imperial competitors, or as inheritors of history, who published and argued back and forth, in a culture where dissent had become more a currency than had been customary. The communal and individual elevation of reason, of experiment, of the availability of truth, of the driving sense of ourselves as capable masters of the world’s mechanics. Here, knowledge becomes open to dissent, enquiry, investigation. Argument becomes the order of things. Necessity and desire, not orthodoxy, become the drivers of the knowledge machine. The world becomes available for description. Dissent, and not dogma, openness, and not orthodoxy, curiosity, and not closedmindedness are the new arbitrers. Here then is the openness of culture, and of methodology.
These enthusiasts, pursuers of the mechanics of things, reframed the conceptualisation of knowledge. Again, paid for by merchants, bankers, and the landed gentry. Knowledge itself was not always shared, but the world was open to disquisition and experiment in a way that had not been quite so characteristic.
Here, I would argue, enquiry as openness, and dogma and ideology are it’s enemy. To be open to the evidence is to be open to truth. This might indicate that clarity, falsifiability, reason and transparency are the characteristics of openness, and that their opposites are it’s enemies.
Openness as communication.
The library at Alexandria, the printing press, the internet, the postal system, the photocopier and the telephone are all mediums which make knowledge transmissible, reproduceable, capable of dissemination, reproduction and sharing. The exchanged letters of the Enlightenment, across borders and over time are no less a medium for the open exchange of ideas than is the internet. As our capacity to communicate evolves and changes, the pace and abundance might change, but not the basic mechanics. Where, in the 1600’s, I might need to use a cypher to prevent the contents of my letter being intercepted, I now might rely on TOR. The same people, for the same reasons produce the same effects on different technologies. Elizabethan spies intercepting post are not so different from NSA contractors archiving Internet traffic.
The enemies of open communication have always been the same. Thomas More’s interception of letters from seditious religious reformers are, in many ways, not dissimilar from todays omni-interception of data. Treason, sedition, conspiracy, and the threat to securoty played as much a [part in the past as they do today. And the excesses we experience are none so different either, perhaps.
Communication is the medium through which openness expresses itself. The abundance of communication we currently experience is novel, miraculous and a pristine human experience. That said, although communication is the medium for openness, I do not think it is a prime cause. That a medium exists is not sufficient for openness to occur.
Openness as adaptability and distribution
The Open Software movement, commons licensing, peer to peer filesharing, Open education, are all examples of a type of openness, that has a distributed aspect to it. It is to do with the distribution of development and artefact creation, or to do with the distributon of already created artefacts. We work together to make something new, and distribute to whoever wants it. The process, or the product, or both are now open. Here the enemy may be closed development systems, or proprietary platforms, or a lack of freedom to riff on existing ideas. Anyone can take Linux and fork off with it. Anyone can develop for Android. More or less. Anyone can use a cc licenced image. An Open Education Resource is there to be distributed, and, perhaps, adapted, changed, and redistributed.
We work together to distribute something that already exists, and is actually owned by someone else. So we don’t have to pay for it.
Openness is, always, an experience of something else.
What all these share in common is an interface of curious individuals, across a medium where this curiosity is expressed. The motivations differ – financial gain, imperial advantage, selfish desire for achievement, status or prestige, necessity, opportunity or enthusiastic interest. But that interface, the medium and the motivation of curiosity seem unchanging, and characteristic of all types of openness. People must meet, in some form or another, meaningfully, and form an understanding which is communicated, and which informs and shapes what follows, when that experience is then crystallised into a thought, a word, a deed or a thing. And I think this is the heart of openness. It is an experience, always, of something else.
The price of Openness, picking up the tab.
The development of the internet is, now, characterised by this type of openness. The TCP/IP Protocols that run things are non-proprietary. They are open to adaptation. The infrastructure, now that it’s declassified, is universally open. People are free to implement and adapt. This openess is less straightforward than it might seem.
Where openness had been bankrolled by ,merchants and aristocrats, now, in part, it’s bankrolled by users. Google has right on your content and mines your online existence for data. It trawls youir email and markets at you on the basis of what it reads. Facebook can reproduce your content for it’s own purposes. Globally. For eternity. In whatever way it sees fit. And so can any future partners. Apple track your physical movements and store them. Who we are, where we are, when we are, and what we do is archived, cross referenced, and utilised. Sometimes that is transparent, and we willingly, or from willful igornace, enter into the bargain. And at times we are unaware of the silent partners (hello NSA).
The moral here is that openess must always be paid for, as it requires a medium. Currently, we are the product. The price of the current openess on the internet is our data, our privacy, and our ownership of the things we say, and the things we digitally do. It;s a devils bargain, as what we say and do constitute the majority of who we are. But why worry about that when we have Facebook. The apex of human expression.
And it is always subject to the needs of the authorities who administer it. Tudor spies will open your mail if you are suspected of sedition. GCHQ will open your email, browser history, and chat logs if you are suspected of sedition. Or if the NSA pay them to. (This is not new by the way. The UK’s RIP act has been on the books since the 90’s, and gives all sorts of organistaions access to your data. The pensions regulator, the department of transport, the health and safety executive, the phrmaceutical council, amonst many others can access data…)