Computerworld 25 years: Open source advocate says outlook is positive

New Zealand Open Source Society president Dave Lane is optimistic about the next 25 years in IT

I am quite optimistic about the next 25 years of IT in New Zealand because, in recent months, I have got the sense that a number of auspicious trends are starting to converge.

The new digital-native generation is starting get socially and politically involved in meaningful ways. For these young folk the internet is inextricably woven into their day to day social fabric.

Their experience means they have some different priorities from earlier generations. Their influence seems to be quietly ushering in a new culture: one in which the opposite of open isn’t closed; this opposite of open is broken.

I am seeing both grass roots and institutional movements emerging: coordinated citizen activisim like the various “Occupy” groups, along with more technology-focused efforts like “Retake the Net” are gaining signficant exposure for their constructive messages. Along with these are other principle-driven social and professional organisations like InternetNZ, NZRise, TechLiberty, the Creative Freedom Foundation, the NZCS, the NZOSS, and others.

These groups are ardently leading public debate, gauging public sentiment and advising policy makers. Amazingly, some of these issues that I would have thought were hopelessly arcane are starting to generate real interest and passion in the mainstream. Increasingly, a new class of influential tech-savvy individuals entering government and hovering around it, are gradually replacing the old guard, the ones who trusted and admired corporations.

Through a number of seemingly innocuous changes, I think we are really seeing a profound shift in thinking: away from top-down control towards decentralisation, governed by simple rules and a culture of openness.

Individuals now have a chance to have a real and positive effect on their environments like never before, their reach extended by their constant immersion in their communities of interest via social media.

I have seen fundamental shifts like the Open Government Data movement, the storm surrounding the new copyright legislation, a unanimous recommendation to exclude software from patentability, the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework (NZGOAL), and other pleasant surprises. A couple of examples are: government negotiators with the confidence to reject the old thinking being foisted upon us by US corporate-driven protectionist trade policy, political parties devising thoughtful, savvy IT policy platforms, policies regarding copyright reform.

With the advent of the weightless economy — building and distributing products and high-value specialised services via the internet for the first time removing the “tyranny of distance” — New Zealand businesses with an IT focus have an unprecedented opportunity. One which offers the prospect of community respect and prosperity without the cost on our lifestyle or environment that traditional “heavy” industries have, and without many of the anxieties surrounding volatile commodity prices and protectionist policies in foreign markets. Thought leaders like Sir Paul Callaghan, our New Zealander of the year in 2010, have rightly asserted that our future viability as a nation depends on us realising this opportunity and focusing on filling global niches and making New Zealand a place where “talent wants to live.”

I think we’ve got all of the right ingredients falling into place. In addition to our many homegrown innovators, I know of talented immigrants moving to New Zealand to take advantage of our lifestyle and world leading social and legal policies.

I have no doubt that New Zealand is where talent wants to be. These auspicious developments are setting the stage for a pre-Cambrian explosion of small, nimble IT products and services companies filling all sorts of obscure niches.

Over the next 25 years, this self-organising swarm of companies will become the new engine for our economy and, I believe, will herald a new era of success for us without the pain and regret that historically accompanies “growth”.

* This is the fourth article in a series this week marking Computerworld's 25 year birthday.

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