Sunday, March 25, 2012

Openness: Introduction

In lieu of any actual social commentary or interesting thing that I would love to do if I had the time, here is a brief introduction to the chapter my group is writing on openness.

The concept of openness is absolutely essential to any thorough discussion of modern digital society. Openness is pervasive; in the modern age, this concept can be seen at some level or another affecting commercial enterprise, scientific inquiry, education, and government, as shall be seen hereafter. Even less consequential pursuits like hobbies are affected by existing, and often recently-emerged, policies of increased openness. As a result, one must understand openness to understand the current state and direction of the digital civilization.

Now, the meaning of the word “openness” seems obvious at a first glance, but a discussion of “the state of being open” is not particularly illuminating. Indeed, the digital concept with which this chapter is concerned is somewhat nuanced, and certainly more complicated than the first glance might suggest. In light of the various areas, to be discussed in greater detail in a following section, in which openness plays a role, a profitable approach may be to ask the question: what do open science, open government, open data, et cetera have in common? With some examination and careful consideration, the answer follows.

Openness is a mindset or an environment, or both, that creates a community for the free sharing and accessibility of information. In general, the objective of an open policy is to facilitate creativity, innovation, or some similar form of advancement for a group. For example, the leadership of a community may institute a policy of open government by inviting citizens to put forth input on the creation of new policies. The enactment of the policy of openness creates the mindset and presumably a dedicated forum, blog, or website acts as the environment. Through the online resource, any politically active and interested citizen joins a community in which policies are conceived, drafted, discussed, edited, and put forth for approval. If properly regulated, the act has potential to effectively deliver new policies for the benefit of the community, already approved by interested citizens. In this way the policy of openness fosters innovation in the development of policies. This example is not meant to reflect any specific real-world example of openness, but to present with simple terms the facets of openness.

Naturally, considering the example further, it is not hard to see how the community’s policy of openness might go astray. For instance, if the policy allowed uncontrolled submission of any and all ideas for new laws, it would be prohibitively difficult for leaders to filter the submissions and find worthy candidates. Hence the qualifier of proper regulation in the previous discussion is justified. For openness to achieve its objective, some control is necessary.

As mentioned previously, understanding openness is of considerable importance due to its ubiquity in modern society. One must see how openness achieved this modern extent and observe modern examples. One must also understand the historical context of openness, for some historical examples offer useful modern lessons on the subject. Furthermore, one must recognize the extent to which openness can effectively be realized and the boundaries that must be enforced. Together, all of these will offer the observer an effective and informed lens through which to view openness and today’s digital civilization in general.


  1. You should post the rest of this paper--if you're willing...I'd like to see the specific examples that are covered here. This is a good way to look at policy and domestic regulation stuff...

    1. I would... and will. But right now the book is undergoing significant revision and it won't be released for a while. Once it's out it should be freely accessible (I think) but in the meantime I can't do anything about it.