The internet and the digital age- remixing, open educational resources, open access journals, and creative commons licensing. As I read and watched the videos for this week, I couldn’t help but think that the open education movement is the 21st Century’s version of the advancement of the printing press. We are at another technological crossroad that is just as controversial, yet exciting. Imagine, the Church as the keepers of knowledge with monks scribing manuscripts page by page. The printing press made writing accessible to the masses and took away the power of the Church to control what was written, how it was interpreted, and shared. The printing press made the written word available to all people
Today we talk about the digital age set in motion by the internet and the challenges of information kept by public institutions- government, universities, courts, scholars- being accessible to the public. Pubic records and scholarly debate and research is limited to individuals of the right credentials or for those that can afford to access them. There have always been criticisms of the government and private corporations controlling information allowing conspiracy theories to thrive. However, much of the information that individuals in the digital age seek is not of national security or to delve into the personal records of one another. It is about accessing and sharing public information that can help to inform society and build our collective creativity as ideas are expressed, challenged, and collaborated on in an open forum. It is about the masses having an opportunity to participate in a literature driven culture, like the printing press advanced, but in digital form.
Larry Lessig sums up this new literature culture as he has coined a read/write culture versus the past of read-only. Read-only, he describes as much more passive where we absorb content created for us. I draw parallels again to the days of monks writing manuscripts and the Church controlling what individuals could read. Lessig’s read/write culture is one of much greater engagement as we move beyond passively consuming to responding to the literature at our fingertips. We are able to share, challenge, build upon others’ work, and remix as we write ourselves. This is how we make meaning and allow creativity. By reading, writing, and re-writing, we are no longer passive consumers of information.
The digital age, like the printing press has brought information to the masses and created an economy of sharing. However, with a read/write culture there are challenges to the traditional way that information has been institutionally created and kept. Lessig argues that an economy of sharing is challenged by archaic copyright structure because it hinders creativity. The internet is designed to network and share, and traditional copyright laws do not align with this.
Creative Commons (Lessig is one of the Founders) is an alternative to traditional copyright laws that encourages sharing while allowing authors to create the level of copyright or openness that they wish to protect their work. Lessig argues that more free (more open) and less free (less open) copyright can work hand in hand to realize the economic competition- competition of creativity. Creative Commons allows anyone to become part of the read/write culture.
However, there are other challenges this new culture of learning faces as much of the scholarly thinking and research is still denied from the open platform. Danah Boyd offers solutions of how to put pressure on publishers and academic institutions to provide increased access including boycotting academic journals that are not open access. Amy Scuka notes that with a bit of searching there are open source educational materials that teachers may also access. Even some universities are now publishing their materials unfettered for anyone to interact with online.
Publically funded institutions and academic research journals are still largely limited to those that can afford to attend or pay for subscriptions. The social activist work of Aaron Swartz reminds us the challenges we still need to resolve as the digital world promotes open access to public information and using that information to network in ways that allows all individuals to contribute to improving our world through a read/write culture.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, is a compelling documentary that challenges our thinking about access to public information and how we might not be in a parallel situation to when the Church relinquished its control to the printing press. Copyright laws, government, corporations, and academic institutions are still dominate control over much public information. Swartz’ and Lessig advocacy for a remix culture and one of open sharing challenges us to reinvent the printing press of the digital age.