Intentionally Closed

To follow up on the unintentional progress we are seeing with academic content being published openly on blogs at Institutions across the country I thought I’d share a story that tells a different tale. Last May I was lucky enough to attend the Berkman@10 conference at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law … one of the first general sessions was a conversation lead by John Palfrey related to Politics and the Future of Democracy. This was my first real view into the notion of nations filtering access to content by its citizens and it was a very powerful experience. During his talk he discussed the Farsi (Iranian) blogosphere and how explosive it is in terms of growth and productivity. He spoke of it as the fourth largest blogosphere (measured by language publishing) and the intense censorship that goes on in the country on topics such as politics, love, religion, and art. Those who write do so at great risk — not the kind of risk we worry about, the kind of risk that ends with people disappearing.

It is not a matter of freedom of speech, it is a matter of freedom after speech.

What struck me at the time was the passion of the bloggers in Iran to get the word out and share … they want so badly to speak out against the government, to show the world that they love art, that they appreciate culture, and so on. They want real change to come to their lives. Because of the level of Internet filtering that goes on, much of what is written within Iran never gets read within Iran … in other words they are writing things that their neighbors can never read. It was a moving thought about the power of the written word and the lengths people will go to for real change. I was reminded of this experience when I came across an outstanding video from the Vancouver Film School, Iran: A Nation of Bloggers. This is so worth the watch.

IRAN: A Nation Of Bloggers from ayrakus on Vimeo.

This puts the notion of easy publishing in a perspective many of us do not view all that often. I wonder what your reaction to this is and why we are so tied to a closed architecture when there are people willing to die for the ability to live in the open. Maybe I am comparing things that cannot/should not be compared, but it is sort of ironic is it not? We live in a place where access to knowledge is open, a place where I can publish instantly and (part of) the world can take part in the conversation, and yet we still work to build walls around our knowledge. I’m not too Polly Anna to think there isn’t a reason to protect intellectual property (not agreeing with an approach does not make it go away), but for crying out loud its time to cry out loud!

5 thoughts on “Intentionally Closed

  1. I lived in the middle east for several years and I did not try to blog my views or make a difference; I tried very hard to blend in and become unnoticeable. Which for me, as you might imagine, is difficult indeed, and even harder when you’re the wrong sex, the wrong color, the wrong religion, the wrong influence from those in charge. It was a scary reality to live–the fact that I could be taken off the streets because somebody felt like it, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was very much all about someone else having–and maintaining–very tight control over my environment. I cannot even imagine having the kind of courage to stand up for my beliefs at the possible expense of my personal safety. But it did make me keenly aware (and unspeakably grateful) of the freedom we have here in this country, and the importance of speaking our minds, and sharing our community input. Intellectual property is a fight that seems to be fought not so much at the individual level as it is the corporate or organizational level. It seems to be a very top down thing. Instead, I think the scarier thing (for The Authority) is the bottom up movement, because bottom up cannot be controlled. And really, closed versus open is really about who has the control, isn’t it?

    It’s a bit like living in Pandora’s Box. Once you start questioning why it’s closed, the draw to openness and shared control is addictive and powerful. I’ve lived closed and censored. It’s like not being able to breathe. I prefer the freedom of openness and the ability to share the control. On a smaller scale, I still seem to fight the closed and censored. I don’t think you ever forget it.

  2. well, yes, it definitely is ironic. and sobering. and i’m not sure *what’s* going on…but it seems our country (and perhaps other affluent civilizations)…have a tendency to take a good thing…a valuable thing…and totally contort it. we should be the healthiest country on earth…and perhaps at one time were…and now our children will have a shorter lifespan than us due to an obesity epidemic…abusing the very thing that other countries fight and die for…food.

  3. Interestingly, I believe “freedom” means both the freedom to be open and the freedom to be private.

    An interesting late-night dorm conversation was a comment from non-Americans that we take our right to mock our government to much for granted. A Malaysian woman commented that the late-night conversation could never happen in her country because no one is sure who is a government informer.

    In other words everything is in the “open” as far as the Malaysian government is concerned. It’s so open that it became oppressive and freedom of speech was shut down.

    I definitely agree that openness is important, but so “closedness”. When people request private blogs, I think they are looking for space to express themselves in a safe place.

    I applaud the Iranians for their use of blogs as a tool of social activism (as well as those in China), but I think they would agree that they are fighting for the right to live private lives as well as open expression.

    To me, control is choosing where and when to express yourself. I want the right to think dangerous thoughts without being overheard unless I want you to hear me.

  4. There’s a threshold of acceptable closed-ness within each of us; a point at which we can understand control or limited access or secrecy. There are things we don’t talk about in public, and regardless of moves to openness, many things will continue to remain hidden. The threshold just varies by individual and circumstance: A group concerned about their countries safety will patriotically limit what can be publicly disclosed; understandable if it’s the United States and the Patriot Act but deplorable if it’s another culture or someone not like us. I deeply feel that the threshold of acceptable openness either exists or it doesn’t. There are no degrees; either nothing is discussed off-the-stage, or we back off and accept other’s thresholds.

  5. @E. Pyatt I agree with you that closed is as important as open in every respect. My personal push is for more of the knowledge of our campuses to be open — but still protected via a Creative Commons license.

    In other words everything is in the “open” as far as the Malaysian government is concerned. It’s so open that it became oppressive and freedom of speech was shut down.

    Very interesting … I’ll want to think about that a little more.

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