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When Ideas Move without Friction

An interview with the Software Freedom Law Center's (SFLC) Eben Moglen about the future of collaboration and technology.

CT: Will technology engender more collaboration?

Moglen: Human beings are social animals. They don't collaborate because; they collaborate as a result of what they are. Human beings collaborate by nature. We are biologically crafted for collaboration. The fundamental question of human social structure is the question of the scale of that collaboration and the nature of its direction. And, human societies over the long secular course of human history have evolved ways of extending the reach of those forms of social collaboration. The two fundamental limiting forces in that are mechanisms of communication--development of writing, for example--and development of systems of transportation, whether land transportation or water transportation. The long secular history of human social organization is improved communication and improved transportation widening the reach of forms of collateral, non-competitive activity. What you ask is, does the technology that joins all the brains on the planet change people's propensity to collaborate? The answer is, it doesn't change their propensity to collaborate, but it alters qualitatively what that collaboration is about. [And what] that collaboration is now about is no longer wasting brains. Human society has wasted almost all the brains at its disposal almost all the time, almost forever, and it's about to stop. And when it has stopped, when we are no longer wasting almost all the brains almost all the time, we will be in a new social condition that nobody presently living fully imagines the reach of.

Hope so...

It's not a question of hope or fear or doubt, it's merely certain. It is where we are going as firmly as we were going towards the empire when writing came to be. These are the consequences of the structures of communication. When we made writing, we made the king. When we made radio, we made totalitarianism. When we make the net, we produce that thing, that singularity of Kurzweil's, that moment at which the nature of human integration changes. So, we're going there. There are those who would like to stop it, to control it, to retard it, to impede it, or even to facilitate it only on their terms. But these are forces too large for any surface layer of human social activity to change for a very prolonged time.

Will we see a blending various segments--higher education, K12, the life-long learner--as these changes come about?

One Laptop per Child (OLPC)... That's the platform... the answer to the question you just asked. [It's] the structure by which, a technological arrangement for the integration of people at each stage in their lives and at each level of their intellectual adventure, joined in a mesh--a literal mesh. Those rabbit ears you see at the top [prototype at left] are capable of making [mesh wireless] out of devices that don't need electricity and don't need an underlying communications infrastructure. So when you imagine a world flooded with that, you are achieving the very outcome you are asking about. You have children joined to non-children doing the thing we call learning, doing the thing we call teaching, doing the thing we call making a living, doing the thing we call inventing, doing the thing we call writing, and et cetera. Because it's all just one big mesh, accessible to everybody. And in that mesh the ideas move without friction and without control.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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