Local News

March 17, 2013

The freedoms, concerns of an ‘open source’ society

Imagine a large vault that houses everyone’s personal information: medical records, financial data, Facebook pictures, etc. Now imagine everyone in the world has a key to that vault.

That’s how several students at Coahulla Creek High School describe an extreme version of an “open source society” where digital coding blueprints are freely accessible and easily understood to the point where all digital information can be accessed and redistributed.

“I feel like society is being pushed to share everything,” senior Jon O’Quinn said. “I think that we’re being pushed towards a oneness with the world, a collective. It poses threats, especially with things like medical and financial records — things you don’t want out in the open.”

Open source refers to a philosophical belief that information should be free and accessible by the public. Within the context of the digital world, open source refers to opening the source code of programs and software for understanding and retooling by anyone at anytime.

The job to keep the world safe from rampant open source technology falls on the younger generation, said Principal Philip Brown, who hopes to “graduate thinkers with entrepreneurial spirits who can reason through these problems and find a solution.”

That’s one of the reasons O’Quinn says he attends Coahulla Creek. The Professional Association of Georgia Educators magazine recently featured the school as a “school without books.” Although the school does house some books, most instruction revolves around digital technology, which is exactly what O’Quinn wants from a high school.

“This world is moving to a more technological age,” O’Quinn said. “We’re basically leaving paper behind. Being exposed to that reality sooner sets you up for a better future ... that’s why I like it here. If you take a student from one school that doesn’t have all this technology and put them in Coahulla Creek where you do have all this technology, you’re going to see a difference between them at graduation.”

While he thinks every parent should find the school “right for them,” Brown said Coahulla Creek offers relevancy to students.

“I think the idea of Coahulla Creek is ...  the whole campus is wireless and anywhere we can get access to information,” Brown said. “So the idea you have to be in a classroom is no longer a fixed environment ... the building is not a limitation ... you see kids in class with head buds in. Ten years ago, you would take that up as an issue. Now, it’s not an issue. The students have grown up with technology. It’s how they work.”

That’s one of the reasons teacher Stephen Vess encourages cellphone use in school.

“I’ve been in classroom situations before where the supervisor or the principal ... they asked us to take phones away,” he said. “So I had to abide by the rule. But I’ve always tried to find new ways to use technology. In the past I had to get approval and ask a principal, ‘Can we do this? Can we use this technology in class?’ Now it’s just a common thing. Does texting and all that distract? Probably so. But I think in a lot of our classes, students are good at managing things.”

Embracing technology as part of education is “crucial” to contend with the concerns of open source technology and  “develop a safe world,” O’Quinn said.

“Any time you have advancement in technology, one of the main concerns should be safety of the people using the technology,” he said. “Everyone is becoming so skilled and becoming so familiar with coding and programming and how things work. While it allows for creativity and imagination to run wild, it also puts people at risk. It falls on us to brainstorm ideas on how to keep information safe. Look at things like WikiLeaks (an online organization that claims to leak classified information). That’s a lot of information that should have never been released.”

Macavan Kalafut, a sophomore, disagrees.

“I mean, with pirating music and stuff ... I know it’s very controversial,” he said. “But in my opinion, it’s fine. I think it’s a good thing to be more open ... at least with some things. With piracy, the creator who made the work has his product shown and others who hear it go out and buy it.”

Several students agreed. Gavin Mullins, a freshman, said debating the ethics of piracy and open source technology won’t matter because digital security will eventually be breached by someone.

Students pointed to the hacking of two Iranian nuclear facilities to show digital security is waning. A hacker shut down two computer networks at the separate facilities and played “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC at maximum volume over computer speakers, several national media outlets reported in July 2012.

“With the way the Internet is going with open source technology, you might never be able to create a certain security system that can block people,” he said. “Every time a system is able to stop people, someone will eventually figure out the coding; figure out how to break it down — to hack it. Because of open source, people know how things work now.”

That’s why it’s so important to give the younger generation an exposure to technology, Brown said.

“Yes, there are concerns with being open source,” he said. “And there aren’t any good answers right now, but that’s something our students have to debate ethically and morally.

“The idea before was ... a handful of people had this knowledge and only certain people could get it. Now, the openness of resources, the access of resources is paramount ... which is good thing, really ... I’m an open source proponent. The hard part for education is teachers are frustrated with open source, but students are beginning to function at an open source level — they’ve learned software. If I could, I would have open source software 100 percent everywhere, but it’s weighing the needs of the group.”

And the ramifications of policies set by the next generation will be “huge,” Brown added.

“I think about things like WikiLeaks, pirating music and movies,” he said. “When that first came into the scene, we had debates all the time about this. What I try to tell students is ... just because you can do something with a computer, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. There are still intellectual property rights. But students here and the next generation will be the ones who set those future policies and find solutions. They will be in community roles down the road.”

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