When we think of open source, we normally think of software. We (freetards, freediots, open source fanboys) have often been described as a type of new hippie movement. In some ways, this may be true. We favor open collaboration instead of top-down empiricism. This is somewhat liberal in nature. At the same time, this breeds fierce competition, this breeds explosive markets, this lowers the bar of entry into the market place, and more than anything it models the idea of a republic.
In the open source republic, the hacker is your representative. He codes on your behalf, and should his idea find favor, the project leader approves the idea, and the idea becomes part of the code base. Should your ideas and the hacker's ideas differ, you are free to contact someone else on the dev team. If nothing is done to your liking, your are free to secede from the union and fork the code. In the real world, information is free for the taking, and where law forbids the exchange of ideas we see rather inventive means of circumvention come to fruition. In most free nations around the world, people were supposed to be at the forefront of government. In the USA, politicians were once called public servants. The open source community is much the same. While many do make money off of open source software, the motivation to create open source software and to open source already existing projects was initially the want to help others, make a better product, and lower development costs by allowing anyone to contribute. Only one of those three motivations has anything to do with monetary cost.
In our troubled economic times, open source thought makes more sense than anything else. Give people freedom and let them create and do. In the open source world, this has already helped immensely. More heads are better. More eyes are better. More fingers at more keyboards are better. The Chinese are quickly learning that allowing people to take charge of their own lives is good. We already knew that in the open source community. When you are in charge of your machine and the code on that machine, you benefit. In the Roman Republic, and in the Greek democracy, when you were in charge of your state, life was better.
Open source is more than software, and open source is more than one person. Despite that, it is still the place where one person can change the world. Linus did. RMS did. More will. The more people experience freedom, the more freedom they crave. The more freedom they get, the more they do with that freedom.
Even in the land of our social interactions, we are seeing changes. Facebook was explosive, but it's closed and exploitative nature has angered many people. Already, Diaspora is charging in to give control back to the people. Whether or not Diaspora is effective is highly irrelevant. Should Diaspora fail, another will try. That other will likely use some of Diaspora's code base in the attempt. The reason that Diaspora could fail is simply the matter that you will not get users until a sizable user base is already present, and that user base needs to be diverse, interesting, and attractive; the type of user base with which others want to interact. Diaspora is leading another charge for freedom. They are waging the fight in a new avenue, a fight that intends to empower individuals, and let them be their own masters.
Many people relegate this type of rambling to radical idealists who make much of nothing, and that may be true. The problem I have with that is simple. I am of the Nintendo generation (after generation X, those born in the 80s and 90s). My life has been ruled by mega corporations, corrupt politicians who were once the hippie protesters, public education, advertising agencies, high tax rates, and close-minded automatons. Yet, I am part of the first generation to not know life without personally owned and operated computers. I am part of the first generation to use the Internet throughout my educational experience. For people of my generation, the computer is your one last remaining place for self expression, for learning, for a retreat from the monotony of life. A park ceases to be inviting when it's placed next to an eight lane highway. When gasoline is three to four dollars a gallon you do not want to travel far. Yet, with your computer you can go just about anywhere, visit just about anyone, read just about anything, learn just about anything, and you lose nothing. Are the experiences less than optimal? Quite often. Nothing can replace the out doors and human companionship, but much of that has been robbed from my generation due to the mistakes of our predecessors.
For my generation, graduating from a college doesn't mean that you will get higher pay at a decent job. It means that you will walk away with debt, and you'll have no job in sight. We are getting out into a world that has no jobs, little money, and quite likely parents who have had their home foreclosed. Our elders have seen it necessary to bring freedom to software, and they fail to see the same freedoms being applicable to more walks of life. Our cheapest and most accessible form of entertainment, learning, and social interaction is all tied up in our computers. We see the freedom we have there, and we want that freedom else-where.
As the world continues to change and become something we wouldn't recognize in a hundred years time, people look for answers to to our most pressing issues. Open source is quite often an intriguing answer.