In Defense of the Digital Craftsperson

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* Article: IN DEFENSE OF THE DIGITAL CRAFTSPERSON. By James Losey and Sascha D. Meinrath. Journal of Peer Production, Issue #9: Alternative Internets



"The increasingly centralized control of communications technologies is limiting the generative potential of the Internet. From commercially-motivated bandwidth throttling and restrictive data caps, to governments blocking websites and services to enforce political or cultural stability, the shift toward command-and-control networking is creating barriers for end-user innovation (Fuchs 2011a; McChesney 2013; Meinrath et al. 2013). Sennett (2008) describes the craftsman (which we purposefully changed to “craftsperson” for inclusiveness) as someone with the desire and ability to innovate and adapt a medium and create a new form or function. As networking technologies continue to evolve, the Internet-of-Things affords minimal opportunities for Digital Craftspersonship. In addition to proprietary hardware, control is being engineered throughout networking technologies as well (Galloway 2006; Zittrain 2008); from a technical standpoint, networked technologies are systems of hierarchical layers in which the function of any one layer is interdependent with the other layers of the system (Burns 2003, Van Schewick 2010). Changes in network management protocols and agreed-upon networking standards, locked hardware devices, copyright, patents, digital rights management, and restrictions on data access have the potential to severely limit how end-users can engage with contemporary networked technologies (Lessig 2002; Meinrath et al. 2010). By contrast, interoperable networks, unlicensed spectrum, open hardware, and access and portability of data provide the foundation for a far more innovative digital ecosystem. By updating prior theorizing (Burns 2003; Lessig 2002; Benkler 2006; Zittrain 2008), this paper offers a framework for analyzing control along five dimensions of networked technology: networks, devices, applications/services, content, and data. Using this framework, the authors analyze how centralization of control is increasingly hindering innovation, and how open digital platforms offer a far more liberatory alternative that supports future Digital Craftspersons."