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Let’s start with the bad news. I have always been a bit of a doomsdayer: I usually think wars will end up badly for most people, I worry about things like mass economic collapse, peak oil, overdependence on an industrial food system and a global trade system that destroys a community’s (country’s) ability to support itself, even minimally. And I especially worry about climate change. I worked for several years in Climate Change policy (in the energy sector) and later in finance, where I was part of an investment banking team building and marketing financial products tailored for the Kyoto Protocol. The idea was to get millions of dollars into emission reduction projects. Didn’t really work.

LITTLE UPDATE: What I love about the open movement, free software, and LibriVox, is that instead of opposing something, trying to get others to *stop* doing something (say starting wars or spewing CO2 all over the place), we instead decided to build a parallel system, to do something constructive rather than oppositional. There is spill-over from what we do and why we do it, but what I love is that with the tools at our disposal (the internet, some free software, mass presence of computers, and, we were able to say: we’d like to make a public domain audiobook library for the world. And now, with little fuss or muss, with no funding from governments or foundations, with no protests at city hall and meetings with rich benefactors …we just did it. That’s the Good news. Back to the Bad:

Anyway, I just started reading The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by Thomas Homer-Dixon. It paints a grim picture of our future, based on five major tectonic stresses: energy; economic; demographic; environmental; climate. Needless to say, as a doomsdayer I agree with everything he’s said so far.

But I have an intuition, that I hope to explore more in this space, that open projects like LibriVox provide some insights into how we might arrange things better to deal with complex challenges in the future. I started thinking of LibriVox in the early days as a sort of organic system that ran up against all sorts of environmental challenges, and because of its openness, was able to confront and overcome those challenges (for instance management of people, management of projects, management of books). We were flexible, and we easily evolved into a more complex system better able to handle difficult situations. Something like evolution, adaptation to new environments.

Of course LibriVox is just a little project, but I think the base concepts are valuable:

  • articulate a goal
  • break the problem down into component parts
  • take a long-view of solving it (don’t make it perfect now, but allow for constant improvement, a la wikipedia)
  • allow individuals to help solve it when and how they see fit

We have many problems ahead, and maybe, just maybe, some of them could be better solved by opening up the processes we use to fix things.

On that note, sort of, Nora and Cathi tipped me off to a project called We Are Smarter Than Me:

The central premise of We Are Smarter Than Me is that large groups of people (”We”) can, and should, take responsibility for traditional business functions that are currently performed by companies, industries and experts (”Me”).

As far as I understand it, this will be an open wiki-built book about … open building. Cool idea. Focused more, I think on business than is my interest, but I’ll be following that project.

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Musings on open collaborative projects, (mostly non-software) with a focus on idealism and not money-making. The starting point is the project. Mostly written by Hugh McGuire, but guest writers may join in as well. [more ...]