Software As Cultural Artefact

You may recall I attended a meeting in Paris last November where we worked on a statement about the cultural value of software. I am delighted to say it has now published both a call for action by UNESCO and a report explaining in more depth.

This is the first work of public policy of which I’m aware that explicitly recognises “that the source code of software used for the implementation of laws and regulations defines the experience of the law by citizens.” That important statement forms the anchor for much change in global legislation relating to digital rights, and as a UNESCO Call it will be considered by each and every future UNESCO policy and consequently by national policy of UNESCO members. Notably, it calls on all to “enable effective independent auditing of software source code used to make decisions that may affect fundamental rights of human beings and where possible ensure it is made available under an open source license.”

Software embodies the procedures by which the citizen engages with the state, through which the citizen and the market interact and in which citizens engage each other and enjoy cultural and leisure pursuits. Our ability to see society in action and guarantee the democracy that sustains it is increasingly dependent on our ability to review the software by which it is enabled at every level. When we have no right of review – let alone a right to directly participate in maintaining the software –  we have lack the most import of the checks and balances of a 21st century democracy.

The Paris Call identifies software as a primary cultural artefact, requiring public access, demanding preservation and deserving cultivation. It sets a benchmark for the treatment of software as modern treasure. Now its the turn of the framers of wider policy to take that into account.

DRM Is Toxic To Culture

In pursuit of market control now, deployers of DRM are robbing us of our culture in perpetuity by enclosing the future commons.

Dry Stone Wall

Ancient dry stone enclosure wall in Cornwall, England

It’s possible that you think that unauthorised use of copyrighted music, films and books is such a serious problem that it’s worth giving away a little of your convenience and freedom in exchange for stopping it. If you do, I’d like to suggest you think again – and time is running out.  Continue reading

Steering Where You Look

When I learned to drive, my instructor told me “you steer where you look” — in other words, wherever you focus your attention becomes your destination, so keep your eyes on the road ahead and don’t worry about the stores at the roadside (or even too much about the kerb and the parked vehicles).

The same principle seems applicable in other contexts. We’re moving away from a hierarchical, post-industrial society and evolving into a meshed society of peers, interacting in variable roles on their own terms. That’s challenging established institutions, but sadly they have frequently “steered where they looked” and made the wrong choices. Continue reading