Open Tech Does Not Equal Open Society

This week, Netopia contributor Ralf Grötker reviews Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the digital society, in fact anyone interested in society – because that is Morozov’s main point, we look at the technology and not at the context. Internet-centrism is everywhere, we think the internet will change society and our lives in some predictable way, but technology is only one of many factors that influences the development. This point is fundamental, we should think about problems first, solutions second and technology only when relevant, but today the sequence is in many cases the opposite. So while Morozov may spend a little too much ink on criticising his opponents, the main point can hardly be overstated

One aspect of internet-centrism is the fixation with the word “open”. Who can be against open? Open is good – in many cases in the digital context it also means free of charge (like “open software”). It is very close to transparency, which Ralf Grötker discusses in detail in his review. Like transparency is not always benign (obvious conflict with privacy), open is devious. What do we even mean when we say open? Is open the same for all, or can open in one context mean more closed in a different? More importantly, open technology is not the same as open society. The open society relies on human rights, freedom of speech, democratic institutions, legal predictability, rule of law, independent court and many other functions that have evolved over centuries. Open tech means that there is no built-in barriers to access data, or to add features, or to build on what others have coded, or to see what others have coded etc. It can be great, Netopia runs on open source software. Just remember it has nothing to do with an open society.