Kooperationsmodelle (OSP)

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Himanen, S. 68ff

The Academy and the Monastery

Another possible allegory for the open-source model is again the academy, which it resembles even more directly than the cathedral. Scientists, too, release their work openly to others for their use, testing, and further development. Their research is based on the idea of an open and self-correcting process. The latter idea of self-correction was emphasized by Robert Merton as an equally important cornerstone of scientific ethic as openness. He called it organized skepticism - historically, it is a continuation of the synusia of Plato's Academy, which also included the idea of approaching the truth through critical dialogue. The scientific ethic entails a model in which theories are developed collectively and their flaws are perceived and gradually removed by means of criti­cism provided by the entire scientific community.

Of course, scientists, too, have chosen this model not only for ethical reasons but also because it has proved to be the most successful way of creating scientific knowl­edge. All of our understanding of nature is based on this academic or scientific model. The reason why the original hackers' open-source model works so effectively seems to — in addition to the facts that they are realizing their passions and are motivated by peer recognition, as scien­tists are also — that to a great degree it conforms to the ideal open academic model, which is historically the best adapted for information creation.

Broadly speaking, one can say that in the academic model the point of departure also tends to be a problem or goal researchers find personally interesting; they then provide their own Solution (even though in many instances the mere statement of the problem or proclama­tion of a program is interesting in itself). The academic ethic demands that anyone may use, criticize, and de­velop this Solution. More important than any final result is the underlying information or chain of arguments that has produced the Solution. (It is not enough to merely publish "E = mc2" — theoretical and empirical justifications are also required.) Nevertheless, the scientific ethic does not involve only rights; it also has the same two fundamental obligations: the sources must always be mentioned (pla­giarism is ethically abhorrent), and the new Solution must not be kept secret but must be published again for the benefit of the scientific community. The fulfillment of these two obligations is not required by law but by the scientific community's internal, powerful moral sanctions.


The opposite of this hacker and academic open model can be called the closed model, which does not just close off information but is also authoritarian. In a business en­terprise built on the monastery model, authority sets the goal and chooses a closed group of people to implement it. After the group has completed its own testing, others have to accept the result as it is. Other uses of it are "unauthorized uses." We can again use our allegory of the monas­tery as an apt metaphor for this" style, which is well summed up by Saint Basil the Great's monastic rule from the fourth century: "No one is to concern himself with the superior's method of administration." The closed model does not allow for initiative or criticism that would enable an activity to become more creative and self-corrective.


Both scientists and hackers have learned from experi­ence that the lack of strong structures is one of the reasons why this model is so powerful. Hackers and scientists can just start to realize their passions and then network with other individuals who share them. This spirit clearly dif­fers from that found not only in business but also in gov­ernment. In governmental agencies, the idea of authority permeates an action even more strongly than it does in companies. For the hackers, the typical governmental way of having endless meetings, forming countless committees, drafting tedious strategy papers, and so on before anything happens is at least as great a pain as doing mar­ket research to justify an idea before you can start to cre­ate. (It also irritates scientists and hackers no end when the university is turned into a governmental bureaucracy or monastery.)


The Hacker Learning Model

It goes without saying that the academy was very influen­tial long before there were computer hackers. For exam­ple, from the nineteenth century onward, every industrial technology (electricity, telephone, television, etc.) would have been unthinkable without its underpinning of scien­tific theory. The late industrial revolution already marked a transition to a society that relied upon scientific results; the hackers bring about a reminder that, in the informa­tion age, even more important than discrete scientific re­sults is the open academic model that enables the creation of these results.

This is a central insight. In fact, it is so important that the second big reason for the pragmatic success of the hacker model seems to be the fact that hackers' learning is modeled the same way as their development of new software (which can actually be seen as the frontier of their collective learning). Thus, their learning model has the same strengths as the development model.


A prime strength of the hacker learning model lies in the fact that a hacker's learning teaches others. When a hacker studies the source code of a program, he often de­velops it further, and others can learn from this work. When a hacker checks out information sources main­tained on the Net, he often adds helpful information from his own experience. An ongoing, critical, evolutionary discussion forms around various problems. The reward for participating in this discussion is peer recognition.

The hackers' open learning model can be called their "Net Academy." It is a continuously evolving learning en­vironment created by the learners themselves. The learn­ing model adopted by hackers has many advantages. In the hacker world, the teachers or assemblers of informa­tion sources are often those who have just learned something. This is beneficial because often someone just engaged in the study of a subject is better able to teach it to others than the expert who no longer comes to it fresh and has, in a way, already lost his grasp of how novices think. For an expert, empathizing with someone who is just learning something involves levels of simplification that he or she often resists for intellectual reasons.


Once again, this hacker model resembles Plato's Aca­decoy, where students were not regarded as targets for knowledge transmission but were referred to as companions in learning (synetheis). In the Academy's view, the central task of teaching was to strengthen the learners' ability to pose problems, develop lines of thought, and present criticism. As a result, the teacher was metaphori­cally referred to as a midwife, a matchmaker, and a master of ceremonies at banquets. It was not the teacher's task to inculcate the students with preestab­lished knowledge but to help them give birth to things from their own starting points.

In the hacker community, too, the experts understand themselves as learners who can just act as gadflies, mid-wives, and symposiarchs to others, thanks to their deeper knowledge.

The Net Academy

The ethos of the original a academic and the hacker model — well summed up by Plato's idea that "no free person should learn anything, like a slave" — is totally dif­ferent from that of the mastery (school), the spirit of which was summed up by Benedict's monastic rule: "It belongeth to the master to speak and to teach; it becometh the disciple to be silent and to listen." The irony is that currently the academy tends to model its learning structure on the monastic sender-receiver model. The irony is usually only amplified when the academy starts to build a "virtual university": the result is a computerized monas­tery school.

The scientific revolution in the seventeenth century was supposed to mean the abandonment of scholasticism and its replacement with a science continually striving for new knowledge. Nevertheless, the university has preserved the scholastic teaching model and hierarchy, down to its vocabulary (e.g., a "dean" was originally an office-holder of a monastery). The scientific revolution took place four hundred years ago, but it is not very well re­flected in our universities as a basis for research-based learning. It seems quite strange that we expect scholastic teaching methods to be able to produce modern individu­als capable of independent thought and the creation of new knowledge.

The wider significance of the hacker learning model is its healthy reminder to us of the potential in the original idea of seeing the academic development and learning models as identical. We could also use this idea to create a generalized Net Academy, in which all study materials would be free for use, critique, and development by everyone. By improving existing material in new directions, the network would continuously produce better resources for the study of the subjects at hand. Members of the network would be driven by their passions for various subjects and by the peer recognition for their contributions.


In the Net Academy, every learning event would permanently enrich all other learners. Alone or in the company of others, the learner would add something to the shared material. This differs from our present mode of disposable learning, in which every student starts from the begining, passes the same exams isolated from everyone else, and never gets to benefit from the insights of others. Worse, after the exam the examiner basically tosses all those individual insights into the wastebasket. This is as absurd a procedure as would be the decision of each gen­eration of researchers to finally toss all their results away ("I see, E = mc2; so what — toss!") and let the next genera­tion start over.


After the hackers' reminder of the full significance of the academic model, it would be odd to continue our cur-rent practice of providing learners mainly with results, without making them learn much more deeply the aca­demic model itself, which is based on a collective process of posing of problems, the questioning of them, and the development of solutions — a process driven by passion and recognition for socially valuable contributions. The core of the academy does not consist of its individual achievements but of the academic model itself.

The Social Model

Expressing this one possible wider application inherent in the hacker model must not, of course, be understood to say that we should just wait for governments or corpora­tions to execute it. A central point of hackerism is to remind us that through the open model great things can be accomplished by individuals' direct cooperation. The only limit is our imagination. For example, the hacker open model could be transformed into a social model — call it the open-resource model — in which someone announces: I have an idea, I can contribute this much to it, please join me! Although this version of the open model would also involve local physical action, the Net would be used as an effective means for joining forces and later disseminating and developing the idea further.

For example, I could announce on the Net that I would be willing, once in a while, to help some elderly person take care of things. I can announce that kids can come and play at our house after school. I can say that I would be glad to walk one of the neighborhood dogs on week-days. Perhaps the effectiveness of this model could be strengthened by adding a condition that the helped person commit to helping someone else equally. The Net can be used as a means to organize local resources. Gradually, others will join the realization of great social ideas, and this will generate even greater ideas. There would be a self-feeding effect, as in the computer hacker model. We have seen that the hacker model can bring about great things in cyberspace without governments and cor­porations as mediators. It remains to be seen what great things individuals' direct cooperation will accomplish in our "flesh reality."

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