Monday, January 02, 2006

Abstract for chapter on free software and aesthetics

Freedom facilitates creativity. How is this phenomenon manifested in the aesthetics of free software production? In free software, the anticipated gaze of users and collaborators redounds to the artistic act of production and design. That is, a software system whose source code will be released for the scrutiny of other programmers requires a transparent code aesthetic. Free software developers benefit from a worldwide audience of critics and collaborators. Not only critical feedback but also community participation in the act of creation improves the quality and correctness of the artifact, while simultaneously honing the skills of the artisans. This unique environment, and its concomitant emergent coding practices, we argue, makes the greatest contribution to the quality of free software: free software design creates better programmers, not just better programs. It is the only software design aesthetic that necessarily modifies the artist as well as the artifact. In this chapter, we develop a theory of software aesthetics drawing on theories ranging from the ancient Greeks to modern computer science, and show how free software is able to best satisfy the demands of this aesthetic.


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