[sociate] The seeming irrationality of openness

  • From: "Jerry Michalski" <jerry@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Sociate News" <sociate@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2006 21:36:35 -0700

Commons thinker James  <http://www.law.duke.edu/boylesite/> Boyle of Duke
Law wrote a great opinion piece published in the FT on August 7 titled "
<http://www.ft.com/cms/s/64167124-263d-11db-afa1-0000779e2340.html> A closed
mind about an open world." (Thanks for the link, Anthony and

Once we open that door, it's important to point out that the world isn't
swinging wholesale to open stuff. The world is just rebalancing, because
open stuff was hard to build collectively until the recent burst of
connectivity, and until there were places to put open things so others could
find them. Can't do that in the phone system or TV network.

On this theme of balance, my favorite paragraph in Boyle's article runs

It is not that openness is always right. Rather, it is that we need a
balance between open and closed, owned and free, and we are systematically
likely to get the balance wrong. Partly this is because we still do not
understand the kind of property that exists on networks. Most of our
experience is with tangible property; fields that can be overgrazed if
outsiders cannot be excluded. For that kind of property, control makes more
sense. We still do not intuitively grasp the kind of property that cannot be
exhausted by overuse (think of a piece of software) and that can become more
valuable to us the more it is used by others (think of a communications
standard). There the threats are different, but so are the opportunities for
productive sharing. Our intuitions, policies and business models misidentify
both. Like astronauts brought up in gravity, our reflexes are poorly suited
for free fall.

Our reflexes are poorly suited, indeed. It takes considerable effort, plus
the occasional gut-twinging aha!, to retrain those reflexes. And the changes
open new risks. Those are some of the reasons why this transition will be

It feels like we're a third of the way through a 20- or 30-year process of
rebalancing. Along the way, the people and organizations that are threatened
with pitch fits and fight back. But this tide is inexorable, and the sooner
the players figure out where the new resting point of the fulcrum will be,
the sooner they can settle into a new business as usual. It'll be awkward
from today's perspective, but oddly more humane and reasonable overall. At
least that's my hope.

(Boyle is also the author of The Second Enclosure Movement and the
Construction of the Public Domain, available in PDF
<http://www.law.duke.edu/pd/papers/boyle.pdf> here, as well as
Shamans, Software and Spleens. Gotta meet him!) 

posted by Jerry at
2858> 9:07 PM

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