community, culture

New socialism? Naw, it’s the new individualism.


My friend Jeff Mackanic pointed me to this article from last month’s Wired Magazine where Kevin Kelly makes the assertion that there is a “new socialism” emerging in the form of large-scale collaboration projects online. He discusses contributions to Wikipedia, Flickr, even Red Hat’s own Fedora as examples of village-sized or greater online collective work.

In the context of my recent post regarding what Ayn Rand would think of open source, I think Kevin makes a leap where I might not follow him.The clue is right in the article:

…the leaders of the new socialism are extremely pragmatic. A survey of 2,784 open source developers explored their motivations. The most common was “to learn and develop new skills.” That’s practical. One academic put it this way (paraphrasing): The major reason for working on free stuff is to improve my own damn software. Basically, overt politics is not practical enough.

Where Kevin Kelly reaches the conclusion that contributors working together to “improve [their] own damn software” is a new form of socialism in action, I might take the view instead that this is a new form of individualism.

A form of individualism where people are free to pursue their own self interests, yet do so in such a way that they are still in harmony with those around them. The goal of open source developers is individual pursuit, as the paragraph above from the article makes clear… yet a byproduct of these individual pursuits is a collective good: better software, a better enyclopedia, etc.

If it was socialism, the collective good would be the end goal of everyone. But ultimately, the open source model is based on the individual working for the good of himself in harmony with others, not on being a mindless cog in a much bigger wheel.

But I’m no philosophy expert, what do you think?

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “New socialism? Naw, it’s the new individualism.

  1. Just my opinion, but I don’t think she would have had any problem at all with smart people working together of their own free will for mutual benefit.

    On the other hand, I think she would oppose something like a government mandate that only open source or only proprietary software be used.

    Put differently, cooperation and collaboration are not socialism. People try to overlay political and philosophical overtones on to the open source ecosystem, but I don’t think it quite works. To me, open source is primarily an application of the Scientific Method to the software development process.

    –Brent

    Posted by Brent Fox | July 10, 2009, 9:35 am
  2. I think it’s b&*#!$t.

    Reveal the numbers, make it based on a true scientific quantitative study or you ate just sprouting opinionated words to the masses.

    Individualism? come on on Chris, The number of opensource developers I know who base their contributions on their ability to improve their own software later is zero. This almost infers that opensource is the testing grounds for propietary commercial software. The humble and egoless make the most valuable contributions, the rest blow hot air.

    Posted by Andy Futzsimon | July 10, 2009, 9:56 am
    • Hi Andy, sorry I had to redact your succinct analysis:) This is after all a family blog. But thanks for the comment, I’d love to see if someone has done a full data-driven study of the motivations of open source developers. If anyone has seen something like this, please pass on the info.

      Posted by cdgrams | July 10, 2009, 10:57 am

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