Jamie Boyle on the cognitive bias against open systems

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 10 years 40 weeks ago.

(via boingboing)

Jamie Boyle, co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, is always worth paying attention to (c.f., The Second Enclosure Movement). Now he's written about the cognitive bias he has detected against open systems. The periodic diatribes about Wikipedia, the conflation of collectivism and collective action, the war against net neutrality all reflect this mindset:

Studying intellectual property and the internet has convinced me that we have another cognitive bias. Call it the openness aversion. We are likely to undervalue the importance, viability and productive power of open systems, open networks and non-proprietary production. Test yourself on the following questions. In each case, it is 1991 and I have removed from you all knowledge of the past 15 years.

You have to design a global computer network. One group of scientists describes a system that is fundamentally open – open protocols and systems so anyone could connect to it and offer information or products to the world. Another group – scholars, businessmen, bureaucrats – points out the problems. Anyone could connect to it. They could do anything. There would be porn, piracy, viruses and spam. Terrorists could put up videos glorifying themselves. Your activist neighbour could compete with The New York Times in documenting the Iraq war. Better to have a well-managed system, in which official approval is required to put up a site; where only a few actions are permitted; where most of us are merely recipients of information; where spam, viruses, piracy (and innovation and anonymous speech) are impossible. Which would you have picked?