Sunday, September 06, 2009

Upgrade issues..

The UpgradeNY event went really well. Very high quality scene over there - good questions from the audience and I think we neither of us (Karl Fogel nor I ) pontificated too much.

It was livestreamed, but I think it's been recorded in video even, and perhaps that will go up at the website for the gallery space. I will post about that as I learn more. I'd be curious to see it because I gave a 10 minute talk about issues which may both connect and separate the Jamaican music scene's dynamics around copyirght law and the dynamics of the open-source software movement.

Some interesting points that came out:
I suggested that repetition, reference, citation and familiarity are all methods of building and maintaining community & social connection (which is necessary for the scene to function). What they amount to is shared culture - that is, the things that are repeated are or become part of shared culture. So we talked a bit about whether there was shared culture in the open-source software scene, and whether it mattered whether there was or not. Several audience members talked about their experiences with this as well. Short version - Karl said that open source as a movement came from US and Western Europe first and tends to have a libertarian-ish culture and some specific practices, and as the movement included more programmers from elsewhere, there did indeed come to some clashes.

A couple audience members said that the clashes were sometimes dealt with (or rather, avoided) through projects where people who had similar norms worked together.

One interesting example discussed here (which also might be an example of something else), was the practice in open-source scenes where mistakes in one's code can and ought to be publicly criticized. Karl said that people joining the scene from outside the US (he mentioned India) felt threatened by that public criticism --which he sort of framed as a cultural response. But he also mentioned that some of those people felt threatened because they (in India) worried that their bosses might see criticism of their coding and devalue their work. This suggests to me that the larger cultural context matters too - one's employers or others around you have to understand the practice (so, Google probably doesn't punish its employees for having code criticized publicly) - is that culture or corporate culture, or both? Can they change?

But it's also an issue of material positions and what's at stake. Karl also made this point in another contexts, that one's feelings about property rights and ownership probably depend partly on whether you are really on the brink of survival, or instead are living comfortably. I think this is spot-on and not addressed enough.

I suggested that alongside how property ownership can matter psychologically and materially in terms of feeling secure in one's livelihood, it also relates to identity. Especially when you are talking about music and creative works. One's identity may be extremely likely to be tied up in creative work (also given the way identity and culture mutually build each other). This may matter especially when one comes from a place where one's identity is consistently devalued, which Jamaicans may feel in relation to other parts of the world, or poor Jamaicans may feel in relation to the colonial story, and the way systematically exploited & oppressed people feel (and ARE) devalued culturally in relation to dominant cultural narratives and images. Anyway even though I am critical of property rights defined economically, I can see how identity and control of self can be defended, in some ways, by using property language. I just worry about what else is included in that language as it is currently defined.

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