- Background Information
- Defining the Marketplace of Ideas
- Your Place in the Idea Marketplace
There’s a technology company called Librem who is, I think, releasing a smart phone featuring an operating system they’ve designed for it, called PureOS. Again, I think - it’s tangential to my point, so I haven’t looked it up.
They made an announcement recently sharing some information about the applications the phone would run, and within the open-source software community, there was immediately criticism. From what I understand, many of the applications are existing free and open-source applications, which have had their appearance altered and are now being sold.
This is, the community acknowledges, allowed under the terms of the license, but is… not nice, to put it plainly. It’s just plain not nice to take something someone else made for free, put your name on it, and resell it, even if the person who made it, made it so free that you’re technically allowed to.
But I’m not here to criticize a company for doing something that wasn’t nice; there are people more-qualified for that than me.
Instead I’d like to talk about how Librem could’ve avoided this publicity, without avoiding taking the actions at all, by talking about something I’ve written about before, but never so formally.
Defining the Marketplace of Ideas
There’s this notion that gets bandied about, usually as anti-leftist propaganda, called the “marketplace of ideas.” As I say, it normally gets mis-applied, but I think the core concept is worth holding onto: ideas like “democracy,” “sexism,” “free speech,” and “ethnic superiority,” all had to earn their place in the minds of those who believe in them. Someone had the idea, then sold others on it.
Your Place in the Idea Marketplace
Just like the economic marketplace, the marketplace of ideas has different tiers, and different levels of formality - just like a 10-year-old doesn’t place their lemonade stand on the stock exchange, someone who’s just had a notion while in the shower probably shouldn’t schedule a meeting with the United Nations.
I’ve tried to find my source for this idea, but I swear I remember being taught this as a child, by my grandparents, as kind of a variation of “no politics at the dinner table:”
You should share your opinions first with those in your bedroom, and then bring it out to the living room. Over time, you might want to say it over dinner, and maybe eventually mention it at the pub. If it still seems worth saying, bring it to town hall, and then if you need to tell more people, bring it to the press.
That is, refine your ideas by iterating over them based on the feedback from audiences of increasing publicity. You get practice defending the ideas, and in all likelihood, genuinely reassess and improve them.
I want to note, as I’m presenting this in the context of a technology company, that software development has a very similar model it uses for its own development: alpha, beta, and release stages. This is simply an application of that idea to the ideas behind the software, not just the software itself.
Librem could have avoided being very publicly criticized if they had presented the idea to ever-increasingly-public audiences, because it is far more likely they would have introduced the idea to one person who was able to provide the current litany of criticism, rather than presenting it to many people.
Additionally, they would have had practice defending the ideas and so been more able to quickly respond to the criticism, rather than allow now two working days to pass without any real response.
Pragmatically? They should have sent emails of their announcement out to some choice journalists, who would’ve most likely privately responded with their feedback, and been impressed Librem took the time to ask, rather than now publicly dragging the company for an idea they might have been able to defend, if they’d had the practice.
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