In one sentence: What is Open Source?
Open source is the possibility of you to be autonomous in technology. That's the core of the issue: to be autonomous, to be free, to own your perspectives, to own the possibility of access to whatever your interest is.
If you take producers of open source software: What drives them to do this, to give away things for free?
Every idea, every song, every project, every product – whatever you think of – has a software behind it. And proprietary software would never be the software that you need, to exactly fit your needs and goals. Only open source could do that, because you can either make it yourself or adapt it from somebody else and have it specifically the software you need for whatever you want to do. So, I think that in some time from now – I don't know, but I don't think it's going to be a long time –, proprietary software will not exist anymore, because it is a very stupid thing as compared to open source software.
If I am not a very techno-savvy consumer, why should I choose open source products if I can get proprietary software basically for free?
If you are not technologically minded, maybe you should wait a little bit more to get free software; maybe it's not a good idea. We found that to convince people to use free software before it is really user-friendly and easy to use is the wrong strategy.
But what do you mean by getting free proprietary software? Piracy? In Brazil, everybody uses pirated software. The reason to move is not because it's free of a price, but because it allows freedom. And that's a step that should be taken – from pirated software to free software – once you understood what is behind the idea of freedom. It's a philosophical and an ethical choice that has to be made – a political one as well. You have to understand those issues, and then you move.
But the speed in which this understanding has been going is very fast. If you go into an internet shop today to buy a server, it will come with free software because it's better. NASA uses free software because it's better. To find Bin Laden, they are using free software – if they want to find Bin Laden. I'm not sure they want to. He's a better ally to Mr. Bush being somewhere.
The open source model is currently used only for cultural goods or software, that is, immaterial goods. Do you see possibilities for expanding the model to other goods and services? Where would be the limit?
We believe that a peer-to-peer society is possible. What do I mean when I'm talking about peer-to-peer society? I'm talking about access to cyberspace available to everybody as a policy, a public policy. Allowing people to find what they want without having to move geographically. The centre of the world now is the cyberspace. That's the concept that we are working on, one that allows the "glocal" world to become true – "glocal" meaning "glo-" as global, a globalized society, and "local", local issues.
You can stay local and be in the centre of the world, which allows diversity. The guy in the middle of the Amazon, who makes a very fine basketry and now sells them for two cents each – you can get in touch directly with him from Europe and pay – say – twenty Euros. Otherwise, he would only get two cents, and if you go into a shop here in Germany, you will pay two hundred Euros – for the same basket. Now, you can buy it directly from him for twenty Euros. That's peer-to-peer life. And that's only possible using free software solutions.
And that peer-to-peer life seems to me to be the new model for the 21st century, because the old model has been going crazy. The 20th century has produced a world of differences. The world today produces three times more food than is needed to feed everybody and half of the population is starving. This capitalist world is somehow collapsing, not achieving something. What it has achieved is corruption and inequity.
And a new world with a new ethical perspective is going to come with free software. Open Source is an ethical change. People have worked for the benefit of everybody and not for the benefit of themselves. The internet only exists because it's an ethical move. It's the biggest thing in communication – and it belongs to nobody. If somebody would have told you twenty years ago that the biggest thing in communication would be free and have no owner, you would have laughed, you would have said: "That's impossible." Communication was in the hands of very few people then; but they hadn't seen the possibilities. And now, the internet exists and is only the tip of the iceberg of this new, free world in which open source is the basic model of everything.
Is this peer-to-peer society able to sustain itself? To what extent does it still depend on a classic capitalist market society?
Let me explain this the other way 'round: We are bringing 21st century tools to people that are living in 18th, 19th century realities. It's much easier to go directly from the 19th to the 21st century without going through all the bullshit of the 20th century.
The belief that economy is the way to evaluate humanity has failed. In Europe, in the First World, you have to go beyond that paradigm, which is much more difficult for you, because you have to deconstruct 2.000 years of history that you have on your shoulders. Technology has always put some old people out of business, and some new people into business. But now the paradigm is changing – it's a much bigger change. Once we have hydrogen as a source of energy, then you have – together with the internet – the binom for autonomy, for a new kind of digital society, which has nothing to do, cannot be measured through an economical perspective.
If you say "bringing the tools of the 21st century to people of the 18th and 19th" in Brazil – what do you mean?
Free multimedia kits with broadband connection that we put into 500 small NGOs in Brazil, to people which have never seen technology before, have never heard of copyright before, have no job expectancies at all, don't have social security expectancies at all. Now they have access. And they understanding uploading before they understand downloading. They are producing things and understand what other people are producing. It is a Molotov cocktail that explodes energy, explodes happiness, explodes hope as a direct result. It is a revolutionary instrument of the 21st century, a proactive revolution, for things, not against anything.
So we have on the one side a world that doesn't give any answer to the people there in Brazil, any answer at all, except: The idea that if they go to school – which they will not be able to – they will get a job. It does not exist there because they do not go to school, and there won't be a job. So they have to manage themselves. This is very difficult to understand for people in Europe, but this is why its so easy for us to jump over all these things – jobs and schools and all that.
I have never learned anything in a school myself. I'm a hippie. I have learned things on my own. And I think schools have to be totally different from now on. Because if you have access to the internet, you might say to your teacher: "Your're wrong. Someone else is saying something different here." So the teacher – today – should be a researcher together with the students, learning together with them.
But enabling development in the third world with a peer-to-peer society – does that not require a certain hardware and trade infrastructure which doesn't exist right now and cannot be developed by creative artists and open source peer production?
Two things in respect to that. We are right now at a crossing point. I think today every government, every company should have one foot in the 20th century and one in the 21st. There are some such companies – Google, for instance, or some new recording companies. The old recording companies of the 20th century are going bancrupt. They are finished – that's a fact, it's very easy to see. So we have to deal with different realities which are sometimes opposed and contradictive to each other.
But at the same time, we are working on another level: recycling disposed of garbage. Because this idea that you have to exchange your computer every two years because technology advances: that is bullshit. This is a planned obsolescence. What we do is to get kids to build top technology out of PC garbage, to do WiFi connections of their own and to connect computers that they reconstructed themselves, using things that have been thrown away.
Of course, it is very difficult to find a balance between these ideas and the reality, but the fact is that something very new is happening and some people understand it and some people don't. I think people that are really sure about things today are doomed. If you are certain about something, you are certainly on the wrong path.
Interview: Sebastian Deterding
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