So, last Thursday, both Scott and myself spoke at a Brooklyn College conference on Govermentality and Globalization. Scott spoke on the political economy of free software (using material from Chapter 1 of Decoding Liberation
) while I presented material from Chapter 5 while speaking on the political philosophy of the cyborg world (yeah, it was as exciting as it sounded). So, interestingly, one comment we got in response was, (roughly), "Who is the "we" that is asking for these freedoms? Aren't these freedoms just of interest to software?" or, "This freedom is of no use to me; I can't program!", or "How am I placed in a more autonomous, powerful position vis-a-vis technology when I'm not tech-literate". These are all very good points (I've heard them before in various forms), and worth addressing in detail (which I promise to do in a future post, honest). But for the time being, I want to quickly throw out a little intuition tickler in reponse to these questions, which hopefully would suggest that there is something these questions are missing out in their prima facie take on the free software argument. Suppose these folks heard the news that, say, a Ford auto plant had just been taken over by the workers and run as a cooperative (or something). Would their immediate response be, "What difference does that make? I don't know how to build cars!" Presumably not. And then what if those cars went on the market, with user manuals for their use being written by other drivers, who were making elementary maintenance tips available to everyone else, with the slightly more expensive ones available from other co-operatives, who because they had access to the blueprints, could also offer service contracts for the same cars, and so on. You can embellish this picture in plenty of ways. The basic point remains: shouldn't the passage of control from the former entity (the corporate entity) to the latter (the workers co-operative) speak to a whole set of different imperatives and have exciting implications for the control of the technology?