Reflection on Open Source

Prior to taking this course, I had no idea what Open source development was. My familiarity with open source was in the context of software development. Specifically, I was only exposed to code repositories such as GitHub and BitBash. The idea of sharing knowledge and resources for a project, in my mind, was limited to the software industry.

Over the duration of this course, I have learned that the sharing of knowledge and resources can go beyond software. Open source development can revolutionize the way modern engineering – for both software AND hardware (http://openbuilds.com).

But OSD is more than tools, objects, and designs. OSD can actually bring about social change for local communities. Prior to this class, I always thought the reason local communities struggled to advance was a lack of resources. In other words, people in foreign nations were at a disadvantage simply because they were in a different geographic location with poorer institutions. Perhaps my identification of a problem was correct, but my solution was not. While the intuitive answer to solving this problem is to provide those communities with more resources, my discovery of OSD has altered this view. While raw resources are important, perhaps what is more crucial to development is the strategy to using those resources. I look at case studies such as the African farmers who built an app to control their irrigation systems, or the cool sidewalks of Abu Dhabi, and see that these advancements were not made through the abundance of resources, but rather through the maximized innovation techniques.

OSD’s solutions don’t stop on the local level. There’s really no problem OSD can’t help solve. I think of large-scale world problems such as climate change and food & agriculture. Even our simple food computer project demonstrates that OSD is able to provide real, practical solutions to these large-scale problems. OSD eliminates dependence on large organizations and restrictive institutions, and puts the power in the hands of the individual. OSD doesn’t require expensive parts, immense labor, or legal red tape. Instead, OSD encourages thinkers and problem solvers and only requires passion and cooperation. By pooling these people together, solutions are easy to find and well-refined.

Whether on large scale “doomsday” projects such as food or climate change, or on the personal “neck of the woods” level, OSD can help people improve the environment they live in. Open source development gives a way for people to change and adapt their communities for the benefit of all. In other words, open source development is for the greater good. 

What I enjoy most about open source is that it’s creative and flexible. If you want to create something, perhaps a small tool for your personal project, or an innovative way to tackle a nation’s infrastructure, OSD can meet your needs. You can customize any project  and apply it to what fits you best. In turn, you exchange your knowledge for the joy and advancement of someone else’s project and passion.

Yes, this is the beauty of open source, it’s knowledge driven. People enjoy it because they can pool their resources together and innovate together. They can work toward causes they care about and are passionate for. However, this relies on the assumption that people are altruistic and are truly “in it” for the common good. While I know and believe that open source can solve many of the issues at hand today, my lack of faith lies not in its concept, but the users of the concept. It takes a lot of faith in humanity to believe that this concept can be used for the greater good. Ultimately, open source will only go as far as people care about the joy in others’ lives more than the money in their pocket. Until then, IP will always have a hold. IP will probably never go away because people are self-interested, but OSD will fine new ways to be both profitable and revolutionary.

Perhaps the answer to our questions about OSD’s viability leads us to the same junction Martin Luther King Jr. addresses:

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Edit 5/2: One final reflection to add. Today was the last day of class and through the course project, I learned a little bit more about what open source means. For one step in building the electronics, our group didn’t have the proper tools to make a perfect sized hole. I was so caught up in not having the tool that I thought we were stuck. Professor Bevin simply decided to improvise, and instead of using the right tool he just used a jigsaw and made the circle by hand. The whole time he kept saying “this is open source! We’re not sending anyone to the moon, we can make this project however we like.” Although I found this hilarious, that we can just set our own boundaries and limitations in the name of open source, I also find it very fascinating. The point of open source isn’t restriction or following a set of rules. Instead, it’s about creativity and getting the final product done with all the resources available to you. At the end of the day, what is more valuable is  knowledge gained and the completion of the project, more important than the path that you took to get there.

Sources
My OSD Experience

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