It’s always nice to head down to #occupywallstreet, especially with a class of students – the traditional notion of an assumed hierarchy and formal dialogue between students and teachers is questioned when the immediate environment is a chaotic, fluctuating swarm of people wandering into any area of the park where people are congregating. Thus, I enjoyed the many curious onlookers wondering what we were discussing. I think it was very important to hold a class in this space, as it is particularly relevant to our interests – we even had a little use of the people’s mic 🙂 After the class broke off, I wandered over to the tech area and repaired their wireless infrastructure/DNS assigning, because someone wanted to experiment with attaching an additional gateway hub, but instead broke it…in a completely decentralized environment, some people drop stuff, others pick it up, fascinating!
In Coleman’s essay, she argues how source code could be encounter a connection to speech and whether or not part of the freedom of speech. Before reading this essay, I’ve always thought that coding is a tool of technology, rather than a form of speech. Coleman’s argument made me re-examine the process of coding and why it is considered a expressin of speech. Coleman mentions that source code is also a “language” by comparing it through different computer languages which I thought is a very clever way to persuade readers that source code is no doubt part of the expression of speech. I never understood the how hackers turn someone’s coding to their own because I always thought that coding are based on the same logic and system. Through Coleman’s explanation, I felt it is important to reconsider the freedom in different forms of speech. Forms like source code may not be the major forms but it matters to the programers who have spent their time on writing codes.
Both Chris Csikszentmihalyi and Gabriella Coleman talked about a fascinating subject, the politics of technology. And although they both cover the politics of technology, the prospective they cover it from is quite different.
Coleman talked about the politics and laws that surround and are emerging from a technology being developed. How F/OSS laws were made, how they evolve, and are discussed.
Csikszentmihalyi, on the other hand, talked about the inherent political nature of technology, gender politics surrounding both technology and design, and the politics of government sponsoring most of the technology.
In a way, Coleman was defining what code is, and Csikszentmihalyi defining where code comes from.
Yet both perspectives seem to feed into each other, both Chris and Gabriella show how technology is deeply rooted and intertwined with politics. Chris shows how these politics are manifested into technology, and Gabriella shows how technology itself is manifested into law, and then politics.
I think that it only seem natural that code would be categorized in the realm of free speech, and that the open source software movement is a wonderful example of this. It seems to me that today nothing is original and nothing is new, and at the same time it is all new because even though it has been done before not every element can possible be the same, right down to the person who created it. This makes me think of this site called “Everything is a Remix” it points out the quote uttered by Isaac Newton “we stand on the shoulders of giants” which he is often attributed to but its interesting that he did not come up with this quote. and a similar quote to Picasso good artists borrow great artists steal. The open software movement i believe is a new way of our society helping each other out and creating things that previously would have been huge undertakings but seem taking for granted today and i think it is great.
Now, I come from a background that has very little to do with coding and my understanding of coding and technological aspects mentioned in the Coleman article is very limited. But I must say that I never thought of coding as a form of speech.
Having brought that to light, I think coding in many ways is like art and design. A hacker in many ways is like an artist or designer. All designers and artists are influenced and inspired by other artists and designers. There is no idea that is completely original. We are inspired by the works carried out by people centuries before and are constantly influenced by design of the present. So if we as artists and designer can be so heavily influenced by art and design done by other people and can call it our own by merely modifying it, at the same time communicating an idea as our own voice, I think the same holds true for hackers and coders. And why shouldn’t it be a free. Why shouldn’t it also be a form of free speech. If artists can freely adapt from other artists’ works and in turn have the freedom to publish their inspired work as their own, it must be naturally accepted for forms of coding and open source software too.
In Coleman’s article the argument of whether code connects to speech is not something that I considered such a big debate, but I guess that shows my lack of understanding in the process of coding. Its mind-bottling that hundreds of developers routinely make the assertion and the association between free speech and source code as one of the most frequently used fixtures among F/OSS developers. I never knew that they had to be so well versed in law while still being politically aware when it comes to free speech issues, as well as promoting their cause. How did these surprising transformations come about?
I never really understand how to classify hackers. I mean there are the kind that just do something minor without realizing the harm they are doing and then there are the major rule breakers that claim that the law is a waste of time; or “writing an algorithm in legalese should be punished with death … a horrible one, by preference.” What does this mean? Does it mean that they can still break the law, but feel guilty, then why do it?
This article really got me thinking. I mean its like when I have to code a website, my codes don’t come out of thin air, I have to copy what I’m taught, but is that stealing? Am I taking away an aspect of speech? After reading and trying to understand Coleman’s arguments, I feel more confused and filled with questions than ever before. Well I guess there’s a reason copyrighting exists and that there is such a controversy behind it as well. Nothing is free, everything comes with a price.
As our society grows with emerging technology and software, there are many legal cases that are involved with copyrights, patent, etc. There are tons of software programmers who are being sued for the sharing the source code of the software over the Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS). Before I read this article, “Code is speech: Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Developers” by Gabriella Coleman, I’ve always thought that it is wrongful for hackers and other software programmers to remodel, improvise and use the similar skills of other software that has already been developed. But after reading the article, it made me re-think about the situation, that software code could also be another method of express our thought and mind. In the article, F/OSS is stating that software codes are related with the freedom of speech. They gave an example about Schoen’s 456 stanza haiku, “Programmers’ art as that of natural scientists is to be precise, complete in every detail of description, not leaving things to chance. Reader, see how yet technical communicants deserve free speech rights; see how numbers, rules, patterns, languages you don’t yourself speak yet, still should in law be protected from suppression, called valuable speech!” This sentence indicates to us that software code deserve the freedom, since it has natural numbers, rules, patterns, and languages which is considered as a speech. There was also a law case that was mentioned in the article; “Bernstein v. United States,” which was the case about software being allowed to protected under 1st amendment and overturning the exportation ban of powerful cryptography in 1999. Even the government has acknowledged that the source code as a speech.
There are programs that are not protected under the 1st amendment, such as DeCSS and programs. It is true that copyright and patents are also important factors to consider on the behalf of economy. But after reading the article, I think that we are limiting ourselves with the improvement of new tech generation. Not only in software programmers, but freedom is important factor in science, design, art, music, etc. Freedom, is the one source that can give limitless of imaginations which could create anything.
I must confess how little aware I was about how broad the concept of free speech really is. Perhaps, it’s because I come from a place where did discussions are not common or maybe free speech is not a big concern. In fact in my country and most countries, I assume, our concepts of free speech and copyrights are adopted from whatever people discuss here in the United States. So, we wait until you finish your talkings and then we made them fit in our constitution. Isn’t that neat?
So, I was surprised than at the same time there’s people, like me, with very little awareness of law, there’s other groups that not only understand law but they kind of enjoy it. It is great that programmers have the “skills, mental dispositions, and forms of reasoning necessary to read and analyze a formal, rule-based system like the law parallel the operations necessary to code software” and with that knowledge they’re able to challenge the system and change ideas. I applaud that!
It’s also very interesting that the whole Free Source Code discussion actually started when MIT hacker Richard Stallman tried to circumvent the law. I guess going around the law is really not possible and since it’s inevitable it makes total sense to a structured understanding of how “heavily inscribed in the language of law” our artificial world really is.
I was really inspired by our chat with Ethan Zuckerman, and it has led me to reconsider parts of my own collaborations and projects. Like Haitham, Ethan’s advice about building an audience also gave me pause.
Here is an interesting article from the MIT Civic Media Blog about this idea of being heard that we spoke to Ethan about: Speaking, Versus Being Heard, In a Democracy.
Also, from The Economist, a curious analogy between hacker culture and Jesus: What Would Jesus Hack?