Our aggressively intelligent citizenry

In 2004 I commented on an article by Peter Levesque calling for new leadership for the information revolution. He said that communities have not been as successful as corporations in producing certain kinds of societal benefits as a result of the internet’s enabling connectivity. “I suggest that the leaders will be found among the aggressively intelligent citizenry, liberated from many tasks and obligations by technology freely shared; using data, information and knowledge acquired from open source databases, produced from the multiples of billions of dollars of public money invested through research councils, universities, social agencies, and public institutions.

It seems that some of that is happening now, as reported by Stephen Downes:

Congratulations to the Canadian government (yes, you Mr. Harper) for allowing openparliament.ca. And even more to the point, congratulations to Michael Mulley for making it happen. And from David Eaves, “‘Parliament IT staff agreed to start sharing the Hansard, MP’s bios, committee calendars and a range of other information via XML by the end of the year.’

This is great news. Having this data in XML, an open interchange format, means it’ll be far easier for this and other sites to use Parliamentary data, and will really lower the barrier to creating new and innovative ways of sharing information on our democratic system.” It goes without saying what a valuable resource this would be for schools, especially with the XML data feeds.

However, my conclusion from 2004 pretty well remains the same – our management and corporate models need to change even more to allow our “aggressively intelligent citizenry” to lead in business. They need to be free to express their opinions, without fear of losing their livelihood. They need to be able to share data (including information & ideas, which are now represented as data) and build upon them, without fear of being sued.

We are an information society, moving into a knowledge society, while a few corporations own our data and can make profits off it for a very long time. The problem is that we cannot grow as a creative knowledge society without the free flow of ideas. Patenting ideas slows down our collective ability to learn.

Open government data is one step forward, but we also need open business data, especially ideas. From Intellectual Property, Information and the Common Good (1999):

The fundamental problem with intellectual property as an ethical category is that it is purely individualistic. It focuses on the creator/developer of the intellectual work and what he or she is entitled to. There is truth in this, but not the whole truth. It ignores the social role of the creator and of the work itself, thus overlooking their ethically significant relationships with the rest of society. The balance is lost.

Social media, social learning, social business – these all influence the social role of the creator and the work, and cannot be clearly delineated in our hyper-connected society. In a networked world, we need to divorce data from physical property. If not, we will have the worst of both worlds: corporations freely aggregating our crowd-sourced data and then selling it back to us. It’s happening already with Google, YouTube, Facebook and all the other social media sites that use our data, legally own it and profit from it.

Parliament is slowly opening up and communities are waking up, but our wealth-generation models are lagging behind, in spite of the few good examples from WorldBlu. What good is an aggressively intelligent citizenry without access to its own ideas?

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