Attention, Attention! This is the First Post

In a first post, I thought that I should properly introduce myself, my background and all the reasons that I have to do what I do as a sociologist studying technology development. But maybe next time. It seems the best way to explain myself is to jump directly into what is going on with me as a sociologist in the wild (pun intended).

I spent most of this week in Vienna on a conference called European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research. There, I had the pleasure of being a co-chair of the Symposium on Sustainability, Ethics and the Cyberspace. It is not surprising that one of the focal points common to many contributions to the symposium was the issue of privacy and surveillance. Judith Simon, one of the authors participating in this symposium gave an interesting TED talk on the agency of things in today’s world and on the practice of epistemic hacking as a form resistence to surveillance. Definitely worth checking out.

In my talk, I focused on how open-source software development can be seen as a practice of knowledge production and on what distinguishes it from science, another form of knowledge production that has been claimed to be similar in certain ways to open-source. On top of that, I utilized some of the observations I made when writing documentation for the Pitivi video editor. Given the transparent environment of an open-source project, it seems that attention and its allocation plays vital role in what will result from the development process.

In the acedemic world, this isn’t exactly something new. Already in 1997, Michael Goldhaber came with the idea of attention economy, an economy in which attention is considered the single most important resource. As is the case with most of the manifestos proposing a completely new outlook on the world around us, Goldhaber went as far as to insist that the new attention economy will soon replace the old one based on money. This can be seen as an over-exaggeration, but today, one can see that what is taking place on the internet is a case in point.

And how does this apply to open-source software development? I guess that to the people having experience with this form of work, the importance of attention (and the decisions where to spend it) also isn’t something new. But things get interesting when we take a step back and ask the following questions: Are there shared ways to allocate attention in open-source projects? Are there established norms and common practices for that? Can tools and platforms used in the projects be considered as standards of channeling attention?

Based on these questions we can try to make comparisons of attention allocation e.g. between small and big projects, successful and discontinued, community and sponsored, you name it. But that is getting ahead of ourselves. What is important is not simply pronouncing that attention is somewhat important in open-source software development and be done with it, but to show how exactly this is happening and where are the differences among particular cases that could have the potential to explain their variability. This is the problem that I want to tackle with my dissertation thesis.


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