Book of the Week: Digital Virtues, part one

In the next installment, we will reproduce an excerpt from the author’s (Father Julian Fox) speech during the education and free software conference in Quito, Ecuador, organized by the Salesian (Catholic) teaching order.

This introduction is a contribution by Marco Fioretti, co-founder of the Eleutheros Project and the author of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom.

Introduction to the book, Digital Virtues:

The first day of the International Congress on Free Software and democratization of knowledge (in Quito, Ecuador) ended with the presentation of the Spanish edition of the book Digital Virtues by Father Julian Fox, SDB, secretary to the Social Communications Department of the Salesian Congregation. I had got the book in PDF format from Father Julian one year ago and we had had a long, interesting email discussion over it, so I was asked to present the book and Fox’s work during the ceremony: I should explain what the book is all about and why people, both inside and out the Catholic Salesian community, should read it.

The best way I found to do it was to extract from that email conversation the most interesting concepts I had found in the book and explain to the public my comments about them.

Here they are:

the ‘digital’ in today’s life is no longer a range of individual things, anything from digital clocks to cellphones to computers to….., but a culture, something which calls upon habits or inculcates habits.

This is an excellent synthesis of why software and digital technologies have become too important today to delegate to professional or passionate programmers the responsibility to understand how they work and how they should be used. This topic is discussed at length in the initial part of the book. Another concept covered in detail which I liked is this:

– “perhaps the greatest service that virtual reality can give to today’s culture is the recovery of reality.”

My initial comments to Father Julian on this had been something like “Good point. What do you know? Maybe the fact that now everybody can know in a flash, through youtube, myspace and the like, that the fellow sending that professional curriculum is the same that shows himself roaring drunk every evening… may be what finally forces good manners and, above all, a balanced view of life back into younger generations”. More seriously, the point the book makes and which I like is the fact that we must never escape in cyberspace, but use it to improve the real space we keep living in.

The central part of the book insists on the importance of open digital technologies, starting directly from the letter of Pascual Chávez, Salesian Rector Major, of 24 June 2005:

Fr Chavez put it neatly enough: “Open Source is a way of moving towards the democratisation of information and culture“.

Next, Father Julian touches another crucial point. He does it in a Catholic context, talking firstly to Church prelates, but his real discourse is much wider and relevant no matter what your vision of the world is. The challenge he outlines for the Catholic Church, in fact, is the same that practically every large, ancient organization active today has to face, whatever its scope and nature are:

“Free/Open Source software (FOSS) also encourages a read-write culture and this, I believe, has considerable implications for us today… the Church’s language in this area belongs to a read-only culture, and consequently comes from that mindset. It has not yet come to terms with read-write culture. The Church still sees this whole area as uni-directional, as yet another opportunity for the ‘professionals’ to give moral instruction to passive receivers,”

Substitute “Church” with “my newspaper/party/Parliament/University/NGO” and you’ll see what I mean.

The last main concept discussed in Digital Virtues is avoiding what others have called Digital Dark Ages:

Why are word-processed documents unsuitable ‘as is’ for long-term storage or for adequate access? … there is some urgency to us doing something about the huge amount of textual patrimony we have in word processed formats (or not yet in anything but original state)… What can be expected is that the institution take steps (at policy level, in practice) to preserve its born-digital or converted-digital patrimony in adequate ways.”

Again, this is not a concept only relevant for Abbots of eons-old monasteries: the digital patrimony worth preservation includes all the files stored in some government server which certify our right to some pension 40 years from now, doesn’t it?

More Information:

Read the following text by Father Julian Fox: Virtue and the Digital Commons.

1 Comment Book of the Week: Digital Virtues, part one

  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Democratization of Knowledge, P2P alternatives and more in Ecuador

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