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Disclosing the commons

During the modern era, material means of production and consumption worked best using principles of enclosure, figuratively and literally fencing people, places, and things off to exploit their potentialities in a concentrated, well-organized manner. A post-modern era is beginning in which digital means to realize our hopes and purposes are complementing the familiar material ones with different constraints and possibilities.

Digital systems function best as networks that are logically unbounded and inclusive in which dis-closure supplants en-closure as the optimal path for development. Everyone, everywhere, witting or unwitting, like it or not, are participating in the early emergence of the digital commons, as we slowly work out the optimal ways to put information technologies in the service of our aspirations, fully human and deeply humane.

Creating, recording, storing, retrieving, transmitting, and organizing cultural resources has always required material media, expensive to produce and awkward to use. Only privileged elites and specialists could employ them fully. Most people learned about primary cultural resources secondhand, and rarely gained experience working with them. Electronic media have different affordances and constraints, which still we neither understand nor exploit well. Let's change that.

On A Place to Study we can enable ourselves and others to work as ordinary people to employ extensive cultural resources directly, when, where, and with whom we like, for purposes that we choose. Our challenge — setting up and maintaining a full, well-organized, easily used collection of important cultural resources and making it freely available to ourselves and everyone else for creative use by anyone, anytime, anywhere — will help to bring major historic possibilities to fruition.

Resources on the commons

  • Tools—catalogs, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, collections, chronologies, programs, and much more—empower the work of intellect. Online, the powerful ones are usually as easy or easier to use that the simple ones!
  • We include attention to language, especially to the verbs with which we speak about our actions, and to our concepts with which we shape our powers of perception, action, and control.
  • We assemble, read, and assess masterwork, diverse creative achievements that set a bar of excellence for aspiration, judgment, and taste.
  • We single out diverse persons, enigmas of virtue and vice, and hone our understanding of human possibility by contemplating their strengths and weaknesses as evident in their efforts to cope with their life circumstances.
  • We explore places, mentalities, junctures, and styles to uncover how people have formed them and themselves in interaction with them.

Jacques Barzun on intellect as a commons[1]

Intellect is the capitalized and communal form of live intelligence; it is intelligence stored up and made into habits of discipline, signs and symbols of meaning, chains of reasoning and spurs to emotion—a shorthand and a wireless by which the mind can skip connectives, recognize ability, and communicate truth. Intellect is at once a body of common knowledge and the channels through which the right particle of it can be brought to bear quickly, without the effort of redemonstration, on the matter in hand. . . . Intellect is community property and can be handed down. . . . And though Intellect neither implies nor precludes intelligence, two of its uses are—to make up for the lack of intelligence and to amplify the force of it by giving it quick recognition and apt embodiment. . . . Intellect is . . . a product of social effort and an acquirement.

  1. Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (New York: HarperCollins Perennial Classics, 1959, 2020) pp. 4-5.