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The Open Source Generation

In Doers of Good, Food For Thought on November 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Millennials. Generation Y. Boomer Kids. Echo Boomers.

Sound familiar? They should: all are popular terms to describe our generation.

Today, consider adding Open Source Generation to that list.

What is Open Source?

Originally coined by computer programmers to describe the trend of sharing source code, open source can be more widely understood as a philosophy that promotes open access to the source material of an end product.

Open source tends to shirk centralized, hierarchical power structures and instead focuses on the value of collaboration and shared, accumulative knowledge. The appeal of open source lies in its synergistic capabilities: by sharing knowledge and resources with others, we end up with a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

The concept of open source is nothing new; human beings have been practicing it for centuries. Ever shared a recipe with a friend? That’s open source.

What is new is the host of ways open source is being embraced and applied by millennials – including our participation in the democratic process and our approach in tackling wide-scale social problems.

Participatory Problem-Solving

According to Jared Duval, author of Next Generation Democracy, the open source movement is “based on the ideas that ‘we’ is better than ‘me’ and that passion can be a better motivator than profit.”

To illustrate, Duval points to the transformative power of open source in rethinking the structure and process of government. Consider two examples offered in the book:

  • SeeClickFix – a system that allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues via the Internet, empowering citizens, community groups, media organizations and governments to take care of and improve their neighborhoods
  • Deliberatorium – An MIT problem-solving initiative that crowd sources solutions to complex programs and organizes ideas through a process called argument mapping

And, with the rise of social media and networking platforms, the participatory approach to government problem-solving opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for millennial engagement in the civic process.

Open Source for Social Good

According to Duval, the social challenges that have most motivated the problem-solving energies of millennials are “global, complex and systemic.”

Think: Hunger. Genocide. Climate change. Transportation. Energy. Clean Drinking Water. Terrorism. Poverty.

This shift to the global and systemic can be attributed, at least in part, to changing technology. As Mark Hanis, fellow twenty-something and president of the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET) points out, “The Internet has made geography obsolete.”

Blame it on the Internet, or the Peace Corps, or the rising popularity of study abroad programs: the Millennial outlook is undeniably a global one.

Open source philosophy jives well with the needs and hopes of our generation. As we become increasingly aware of and invested in global issues, we realize some problems are too big for individuals or organizations to tackle in isolation.

Rather than run from the enormity and complexity of such problems, our generation is increasingly turning to the lessons we’ve learned from technology: networking and collaboration can take us a long way in finding the answers.

Do you know of millennials or millennial organizations that are embracing the open source philosophy? How can we use this approach to change our government, our communities and our world for the better?

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