Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The mirage of freedom

Mirage in the Desert by Michael Gwyther-Jones, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Michael Gwyther-Jones on Flickr

Freedom, like openness is a very subjective concept. One person's freedom is another's prison and this is especially true in the digital world. I have a colleague who refuses to create accounts with companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon etc on the grounds that he wants to keep as much control of his digital identity as possible and does not want to sell his digital soul to corporate interests. With all the debate around net surveillance this attitude is very understandable and he considers himself free. This attitude is not unusual but it does create difficulties when collaborating with people like me who enjoy the freedom of cloud services and social media and rely on them to work efficiently. My freedom is the convenience of storing resources in the cloud and being able to work from any device anywhere. I value that freedom so highly that I'm willing to overlook the fact that all my work is stored by giant corporations who sell some of it to advertisers and will use my data for future service development as they discover ways of refining the crude oil of raw data. Freedom is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Similarly I wonder about the freedom of open educational resources and personal learning networks. How open and free are they when they are often dependent on commercial services? Traditional learning management systems are often criticised for being walled gardens and therefore offering less freedom than using social media but we fail to see the lack of freedom involved in letting for-profit companies store our data. How free are you when the company decides to start charging for the service or pulls the plug completely? Even if your resources have open Creative Commons license and are thereby open and free to use they are often stored on commercial services like Flickr, Google, Dropbox etc.

So is freedom just a mirage? Do we have to choose between the two interpretations of freedom described here or is there a way to collaborate, store, create and share online without getting tied into commercial services. Thank goodness for spaces like WikiEducator, Wikiversity and Wikimedia Commons which are non-commercial, self-regulating communities with a culture of sharing. If you are looking for freedom maybe that's the direction to head.

No comments:

Post a Comment