Culture in Crisis

An education institution’s goal is to provide the best education possible for those that attend. They are to prepare its students for the future. These goals are difficult to achieve when there is no money available to obtain and share the necessary resources. Students aren’t well prepared for the future with resources from 1990’s. Worse yet, many students are unable to attend post-secondary education opportunities for financial reasons. Open education could help solve the budgetary confinements of schools and students. Open education is a global movement that has the goal of bringing quality and up-to-date education to all teachers and students all over the world. This is able to happen with the use of the internet. Top notch learning material is put on the web for all to access, share, and customize to fit their needs. Unlike textbooks, material can be easily updated, so there is no need to pay for the latest information. Schools and students are no longer limited by location or tight budgets, and students can achieve their dreams. 

This sounds amazing, but the potential of open education is hindered by restrictive copyright laws and incompatible technologies. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that is working to eliminate these barriers. There mission is to develop, support and steward legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation. They have a vision that sees the full potential of the internet realized. This includes universal access to research and education. With everyone having the freedom to access resources, people are allowed to fully participate in their culture. This will change us from a read only back into a read-write culture, where a new era of development, growth, productivity is possible.

Danah Boyd’s mission is along the same path as open education. She believes that all academic journal articles should be available to the public. This way everyone can read and learn from academia. As it is right now, academic journals are, for the most part, subscribed to by university libraries. The cost is high so very few personally subscribe, and with budget cuts, even universities can’t keep all subscriptions. So why do scholars and 

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academics publish in these journals? Journals are valued by academic disciplines and in order to be successful and achieve tenure, academics have to publish in these high quality journals. Because of this, “academics are publishing to increasingly narrow audiences who will never read their material purely so that they can get the right credentials to keep their job.” Boyd proposes that academic articles should be published in open-access journals. I’d have to agree with Boyd. At the moment, because I am pursuing a master’s degree, I have access to many journals through the university’s library database. I am learning about important ideas like how our society is social constructed, racism, and white privilege. However, when my degree is completed, I will lose all access to the articles that helped to teach these ideas. Ideas like these should be shared will all educators and it is a shame that so few will see them for such a limited time.

Creative Commons does much more than lobby for educational resources to be in the public domain. It wants to see music, literature, education, research, film, etc. to be accessed by all and be free for the taking so that it can be added to, recreated, or remixed. In his TED Talk, Larry Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, states that digital technology can revive the read-write culture humanity has known in past centuries. People want to not just consume culture, but participate in it. Remixing is how our youth are thinking and speaking in this century. Copyright laws make this difficult and they are forcing kids live against the law. Creative Commons can provide artists, companies and institutions a way of keeping their copyright, while allowing certain uses of their work. Instead of an “all rights reserved” it is a “some rights reserved.”

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Currently our culture is owned (or at least the US’s is) by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. They have the ability to halt the flow of new ideas, technologies, and better business models. They decide what we see and hear and how it can be used. This is an idea discussed in the documentary RIP: A Remix Manifesto. This documentary is all about how copyright laws limit us, and therefore limit our culture. One of the greatest men of mashup was Walt Disney. He took films from the early 1900’s and mashed and remixed them into our Disney favourites. He was allowed to do this because those films were in the public domain. He and the Disney corporation were also instrumental in making copyright laws as limiting as they currently are. Seems a bit backwards to me.

The film follows four main ideas:

  1. Culture always builds on the past
  2. The past always tries to control the future
  3. Our future is becoming less free
  4. To build free societies you need to limit the control of the past

Below are some fabulous quotes from the documentary that really capture how culture should evolve.

“It’s taking something that was and turning into something that wasn’t”

“No one creates in a vacuum”

“Everything comes from something else”

“Originality is when you mix two things that haven’t been mixed [before]”

“Build on the past, that’s the future”

This is not a world of passive consumers anymore, it is a world of collaborators. With the internet allowing us to share ideas globally and at lightning speed, the advancements in every aspect of culture, from music to medicine, could be much greater if ideas were of the public domain.

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