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Are there any essays or studies naming and analyzing the concept of 'freedom' as developed on the internet?
April 3, 2007 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Are there any essays or studies naming and analyzing the concept of 'freedom' as developed on the internet?

What I mean to say is, there seems to be a strain of ideology that is prevalent amongst serious Internet users: in this highly utopic fashion, it says that things "should" be free. Software "should" be free, operating systems "should" be free, filesharing "should" be free, music "should" be free*. My question is:

What is the source of this? Why are people so easily motivated to become part of it? How does it differ from political ideologies which are so similar and yet so reviled (communism/anarchism)? How has it inoculated itself and separated itself from the bad stigma of aforementioned ideologies?

I know there have been sociological studies on "da internet" before, but I'm looking for something particularly on this topic. If you've any ideas yourself, feel free to contribute.

*not that i disagree with any of this. i'd number myself with them. which is precisely why i want to know why i think this way.
posted by Lockeownzj00 to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom?" offers a really sweet analysis of various meanings of "freedom" as it pertains to both value and liberty, but it doesn't deal specifically with internet copyright type stuff.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:20 AM on April 3, 2007

However, I usually hear it as $X wants to be free, not "should be". Not that it literally wants anything, but it acts as if it does--people will find a way to pass along information even if there are barriers to doing so.
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on April 3, 2007

Note that there's an important distinction to be made between the people who are saying "Software should be free" and "Operating systems should be free" and then address that "should" by giving away their own work, and those who are saying "Music should be free" and are giving away other people's work.

(And note that the specific freedom of "free software" is the ability to obtain and modify the source code. It's "freedom to tinker" as much as anything else.)
posted by mendel at 7:59 AM on April 3, 2007

Wikipedia article:
Information wants to be free
posted by yohko at 8:02 AM on April 3, 2007

I always thought it started out as a hacker philosophy, and developed from there, but I don't know why I thought that, so I could be completely wrong.
posted by kisch mokusch at 8:17 AM on April 3, 2007

I always thought it started out as a hacker philosophy

Not even a philosophy... more a law of nature, like "water wants to flow downhill". Once something exists digitally, copies Just Happen.

There's a good example of this in Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown... his description of what happened to the (I think) E911 document after its escape.

If I was going looking for the roots of the "intellectual freedom at all costs" side of the internet, I'd be looking back to the early engineers, where they came from and how they got their jobs done. Biographies might be a good place to start.
posted by Leon at 9:03 AM on April 3, 2007

(It's a teleological statement. Check out Aristotle for background).
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on April 3, 2007

How does it differ from political ideologies which are so similar and yet so reviled (communism/anarchism)?

Don't be so quick to assume it's any different. Metafilter itself is filled with people that will cheerfully tell you that communism and anarchism are good things. Our own Jessaymn West describes herself as an "anti-capitalist," whatever that means.

Also, consider the question from the perspective of criminology. Subcultural theory, strain theory, social disorganization theory, etc, all say essentially that crime (in this case, theft of intellectual property) happens within a society for any number of reasons, and some of if happens just because it *can* happen -- you leave a car on the street and eventually it will be stolen, because ownership appears to be unclear.
posted by frogan at 9:57 AM on April 3, 2007

The distinction between "free" as in "... of charge" and "free" as in "... of controls" is also important.

See this speech by Richard Kaser for more
posted by ewiar at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2007

No one has mentioned RMS, so I'll just point out that he's a tremendous exponent of strong versions of the X should be free stuff (most particularly about software). (There are some speeches etc. at the bottom of the wiki page.) He seems to be primarily responsible for the emphasis on purity in free software.
posted by grobstein at 10:46 AM on April 3, 2007

yohko has it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:49 AM on April 3, 2007

Lessig might also be worth looking at (particulary free culture)
posted by ejaned8 at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2007

The Richard Stallman biography Free As In Freedom gives important insights into the beliefs of the essential founder of this idea.

IIRC Stallman believes software should be free (as in freedom, not as in cost) not only because he considers it an ideal, but because it once was free in this very way.

As corporate interests decided that software, which they once gave away in source code form, should be kept secret, and made a source of revenue in and of itself, RMS developed his philosophy. The example which motivated him was when a printer company wouldn't divulge the source code for a printer which was misbehaving in Stallman's environment in MIT.

Many of Stallman's views are appeals to a golden age of hacker culture within MIT and apparently to a belief that everyone with access to a compuer would be better off if things hadn't changed. I.e., that the early community of which he was a part had the "right" values and that those values are the ones which would be best for all us.
posted by galaksit at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2007

Free Software, Free Society is a collection of RMS' essays, which do a lot to outline why he believes software ought to be free, ethically speaking. The printed copy is nice, but note that you can also download the book as a PDF from that page, too.
posted by brett at 3:41 AM on April 4, 2007

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