Free Society = Read-Write Society: A Culture of Openness and Free Collaboration

What made and makes the development of free software, free content
and free infrastructures – alternatives to centralized systems of
knowledge distribution and development possible? What made and makes
the system of the many in contrast to the system of the few and
powerful possible?

The Internet is an important factor, but indeed it is much more the
culture of openness and free collaboration that constitutes the basis
for free layers. It is a cultural change that took off in the aftermath
of the peaceful revolutions in the world and the fall of the Berlin
wall 1989. A short time when people took politics in their own hands
and when “the end of history” was proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama. Many
criticized him and regarded this statement as invalid proven by the
aftermaths. Looking at what happened at a level far apart from daily
superficial politics – how people started to create free layers – I
find it rather valid, if it is slightly rephrased to “the end of old
history”.

In the times before 1989 few people were able to take part in the
production of content and culture. Afterwards more and more people
simply safeguarded their rights and started collaborating on the most
different topics. This is not only a change of how people behave but
indeed this changes the way reality is perceived. The production of
content and free publication is a lively way to write our own history.

The people’s history is completely opposite to the way history “was
made”, or often we could even use the word “fabricated”, before. It
includes all its facets and different opinions of people involved and
enables a look closer to the actual happenings of a time than any
historian could possibly allow us to see. The many different views and
descriptions are presented directly and indirectly. The observations,
ideas and intentions of producers can be directly observed in the
actual content they produce, like in the articles of Wikipedia, or in
the way software programs function, like Linux. Indirect conclusions
about the world we live in can be drawn through the transparency and
openness of the productions processes in free layers, e.g. the version
history in Wikipedia or the documentation, the open sources and
versions in the free software production.

The openness of free layers allows everyone to be a historian. “In
the old days” to be a historian was a profession limited to a few.
Until today historians were the historians of the powerful, the ones
that provided them with the opportunities to work or simpler said with
food and shelter. They wrote down what the future world would know of a
time. Isn’t it therefore mostly the history of the winners that we
quote today?

It changes in the aftermath of the freedom movements in 1989 and the
growth of the free Internet (“as in freedom”, Stallman). This is “the
begin of a new history”, where people write their own history in blogs,
forums, mailing lists and wikis – the (his)stories of the many not the
few.

In the Read-Write Society (Lawrence Lessig) people create their own
content, own software, own infrastructures, own hardware. And thus they
create their own realities, their own truths, their own society. More
and more label their productions as free – free software, free wireless
networks, free music, free videos, free texts and whole free
encyclopedias. Free licenses allow people to copy and redistribute
their work and the works of others freely to and by anyone and
sometimes even to change and to sell it – the start of completely free
layers.

Nevertheless looking at the real number of people actually
participating in creating these free layers – publishing content or
producing free software, it is still a small number of people. However
many more already profit from this information and knowledge gathering.
Wikipedia is one of the top sites on the Internet. Imagine what else
can be achieved through this culture of freedom.

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