In the world of open source there are no bystanders looking at finished products, everyone is invited into the process and can come along for the ride. No single author remains; collective ambition, work and processes are available to us all. We have without realising it started participating in a large and expanding social cybernetic system where we can all alter the information loop.
Making is not new, the tools with which we are making are (relatively) new, and the access to seeing what is being made, how to make it and how to turn it into a business has changed but making as a way to realise ideas, hasn’t. What the open revolution does is bring closer the ability to make each other’s design and to share the sense of authorship in design. This deviation from the traditional authorship model spans beyond the open source revolution; in the case of start-ups like Knyttan, you are an active participant in the design and making of your garment. Knyttan, like so many others, are sharing this once hidden process with you- they are sharing the authorship and passing on the ownership.
If Roland Barthes was writing now about open source, what would he say? He would remind us the author is a figure who has never been; it is a construct out of step with this time. While social media encourages us to curate identikit selves, the open revolution proffers difference through collaboration and collective action.
The open source maker revolution connects us directly with the provenance of our stuff, anything, potentially, everything. From houses, most notably in the wikihouse model, to furniture and objects, for example the opendesk model, to historical artefacts.
The artist Morehshin Allahyari, in her recent work “Material Speculation”, has 3D printed replicas of the ISIS destroyed monuments of the Mosul Museum in Baghdad. Inside the replicas Allahyari has stored the source files of the print; these are passed along, and we are encouraged to print more monuments, not just to preserve but to make more heritage. We have available to us files and data with the possibility to source, use, change, upload, cut, print and build, and re-build, history.
This unprecedented access to data and the ability to create and influence our own ‘stuff’ empowers us against the traditional model of supply and demand of goods and to some extent services. For some this liberation is a revolution in making and in purchasing. For others, it’s just a way to encourage us to consume differently, to fill our hard drives with intangible files and data, to continue to collect, store and consume. Perhaps it’s a little of both.
What does stand out within the open source field is the involvement of us. Is everyone now a potential entrepreneur? The word ‘making’ is now a discrete economic entity. A paper released in 2015 by Deloitte attempts to put the making economy into perspective. According to the report in London alone ‘making’ is an industry that contributes up to £1.9 billion GVA and supports up to 30,000 jobs. However this is only the tip of the iceberg. This figure relates to productivity, industry and companies. The open source revolution takes this figure and exponentially multiplies it. There is now the opportunity for many more individuals l to be designers, makers, coders.
This has been creeping up on us all for a while. From normcore fashions on the catwalk and street style blogs, to the excitement that follows the tech industry across the globe, geek is cool and everyone is proud to code and make. However there are limitations: access and education. Can we get beyond a situation where the few code for the masses? Can the masses individually participate, not just use but make and change? Can we get going with a new social cybernetic system; a social feedback loop where with each addition and subtraction to a file we are altering the loop and giving something back?
I don’t know. But we have some good building blocks. Firstly, open source might be the ultimate in collective ownership. Open source is a challenge to ownership of data; it is a way to share data with everyone. To remove the privilege of access and the elitism which is arguably part of the economic system of design, and to hand that over to the public, is a huge leap forward in a fight for social equality and collective action. We renounce the pedestal of the singular author.
Secondly; open source is the ultimate in collective design. It is the availability of files and code to be downloaded manipulated and re-uploaded. To continually evolve and improve what’s available. To work as a collective, not a room of invited people but a generative, public process of change and advancement. Allowing us all into the process.
It is at the intersection of both of these that we can create a social cybernetic system. Whether we refer to it as a circular economy, or a feedback loop, is perhaps second to the importance of believing in its power. This is how open source opens up the collaborative conversation. Unlike sociocybernetics, this is not a social system, this is the collective aspiration to make something better and more tailored to the individual and to all be involved in its generation and extrapolation.
In the 1970s Stuart Brand created the Whole Earth catalogue, a way to circulate and share reviews and ideas, an analogue predecessor to the google generation and perhaps a founding model of the open source economy. It’s not about selling the product; it’s about sharing the process. Sharing the process and allowing people to contribute is a social cybernetic system. It also creates a wealth of productivity tapping into previously uncharted areas of public productivity. The loss of a financial system based on authorship as the commodity, is replaced by a new type of productivity in the economy. Whether this is a revolution or a natural progression is yet to be seen, what is clear is that if we embrace the open source economy it will empower us to be more than the sum of our collective parts.