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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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