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Open Source Life: How the open movement will change everything

Open Source Life: How the open movement will change everything

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class="photo">Wikipedia

Consider this: in just a few short years, the open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia has made closed-source encyclopedias obsolete — both the hard-bound kind and the CD-ROM or commercial online kind. Goodbye World Book and Brittanica.

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Sure, these companies still exist, but their customer base is rapidly shrinking as more and more people would rather go with Wikipedia — it’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s much, much more up-to-date.

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This is but one example of how the concept of open source has changed our lives already. Over the next 10 years or so, we’ll be seeing many more examples, and the effects could change just about every aspect of our lives.

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Linux

The open-source concept was popularized through GNU and the GPL, and it has spread ever since, in an increasingly rapid manner. The open-source OS, Linux, has been growing in users exponentially over the last few years, and while it still has a ways to go before it can challenge Microsoft or Apple, it has become a viable and even desirable alternative for many.

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Open-source alternatives have been growing in number and breadth: from office software to financial software to web and desktop utilities to games, just about any software you can think of has an open-source alternative. And in many cases, the open-source version is better.

GNU

Now consider this: the open-source concept doesn’t have to just apply to software. It can apply to anything in life, any area where information is currently in the hands of few instead of many, any area where a few people control the production and distribution and improvement of a product or service or entity.

Now, the following examples are going to sound idealistic, and they are, but they are possibilities that could turn into probabilities in the next few year, or the next 10-20 years. Only time will tell, but it’s worth thinking about.

  • Schools. Currently, knowledge and the teaching of that knowledge is in the hands of a few, from elementary to high schools to higher education. But why do we need to go through the public or private school system, and why does Harvard and Stanford and MIT control the education of our professionals and academics? Homeschooling, for example, is a growing movement that allows parents to regain control of their child’s education, to move away from an authoritarian setting of mind control and towards one of learning, of questioning, of critical thinking — and that’s really what education should be. Please understand that I’m not blaming the teachers — they are good people with good intentions, but they are bound by the school system, which is really controlled by our government. The open-source concept can be applied to higher education: imagine an online school for programmers or accountants or businesspeople, where the real professionals decide the curriculum and teach the classes and give out the certificates. If this alternative grows in acceptance (and this will take a long time to happen), there is no reason why a Harvard business degree would be better than an open-source one, which would also be much less expensive.
  • Government. Our governments are controlled by a relatively small number of people (the politicians and technocrats), who control many aspects of our lives, from taxes and government spending to regulation of the Internet and commerce. But imagine that open-source alternatives for these functions, perhaps one at a time, are created and grow in acceptance. This may be difficult to imagine, but the example of schools given above are just one way this could happen. Email is another example of how a government function can be co-opted, as the postal system is less necessary than before — fewer people use the postal system to write letters, and the days of getting bills in the mail may soon be a thing of the past. Perhaps not every government function can be co-opted (although it’s possible), but if enough government services become obsolete because of better alternatives, the justification of taxes becomes weaker. Open-source helping of the poor, instead of government welfare. Open-source medical help, instead of the government’s public health system. There are many possibilities.
  • Corporations. This will sound idealistic, but consider that the power of corporations is their ability to control knowledge, and the manufacture and distribution of products and services. If their knowledge becomes free through alternatives — think corporate media vs. blogs — then the corporations are no longer needed. Even manufacturing could become decentralized if the patents on the product become open-sourced.
  • Entertainment. The music, movie, television, book, and magazine industries are currently closed-source — with production and distribution of these entertainment sources controlled by a relative few. Only a small number of people release albums or movies or books, though there are many other talented people out there. Approval for contracts of these things are controlled by a small number of people. There are a limited number of channels through which they can be distributed. But consider an open-source alternative, where people collaborate on music and release it to the public through the Internet. It’s already happening on the Internet with the book and magazine industries, as people can distribute free e-books or write blogs or collaborate on cookbooks and how-to manuals. There’s no reason such collaboration and free distribution couldn’t happen with other entertainment, even if the production is a bit more difficult or expensive.
  • Money. This will seem like a stretch, but what is money? It’s a closed-source system that says that in exchange for giving me your product or service, I will give you a voucher that you can use elsewhere to get products or services (or however you want to use your voucher). An open-source alternative could be created, and as long as people trust the system, there’s no reason it has to be controlled by governments and couldn’t be used worldwide.
  • Internet. Most products or services on the Internet right now are closed-sourced, including Google and Microsoft and Yahoo. That will likely change as people start developing open-source alternatives to these products and services. There are already a few out there, from open-source email and search to the wiki alternatives of online dictionaries, Internet directories, and so on.

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Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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