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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.

More by this author

Leo Babauta

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

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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