I’ve been ignoring this website for several years now, which was not my intention. But just recently, little article by Nathan Schneider on “Slow Computing” published in the Nation reminded me that being slow is not always a bad thing. It renewed my enthusiasm for the joys of emacs, and allowed me to create the all new, markdown-grunt-nodejs-bootstrap-ruby-jekyll-git version of the site for this book. I doubt anyone will notice, but it turns out that’s actually fine.
When Two Bits: The cultural significance of free software was published, and for about three years afterwards, I was eager to create a community around the book, to explore, experiment, modulate, extend, embrace, etc. To a certain extent this happened in exactly the way it often happens for academics–through a slow accumulation of readers who have read, responded, critiqued and challenged the book. But it also happened in ways that confirm that open access and free software represent a real alternative, grounded in a community of committed, thoughtful and critical users and makers of software. It’s not without its shortcomings, but I certainly don’t think there is much in the book that I got wrong, or that has been proven wrong by history.
The problem I anticipated however is that it is hard to keep a site like this updated and alive–and I am not talking about attracting traffic. A scholarly book is a peculiar thing–it’s value exists in the network of people who read and critique it. At the time I created this site, I thought maybe such discussions would increasingly be moving to new venues like blogs, social media and websites for books or their authors. This has no doubt happened to some extent, but I’ve been surprised at the extent to which such discussions still remain native to the scholarly ecology of books and articles, conferences and panels. But this is also reassuring–there is an inertia to knowledge and knowledge-making which allows us to live our lives, open new doors and let things go on in the world by themselves.
It’s also been nice to see that the next generation of free software includes the same vibrant community of shared code and demonstration, problem-solving and bug-finding, as it did when I started years ago. I’ve been studiously ignoring the “social” version of free software, just as I have the “social” version of everything else cluttering up our concentration. Nonetheless, the ethic seems alive–as do the problems. Boostrap is, perhaps, emblematic of the brogrammer-infused Silicon Valley culture that has justly come in for more and more criticism since 2008. The political and aesthetic distinctions that existed a decade ago between, e.g. Debian and Red Hat, are replicated today across the spectrum of free and open source software. On this subject there is always more to say…
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