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Colin Madland

Spring Runoff and DownStream Effects

3 min read

I'm currently on a short retreat/vacation with my wife (or I was when I wrote this) and had the opportunity to get out and about for a walk in the woods. Being the end of March, the spring thaw is in full stride and so the sights and sounds of spring are plentiful. While the green hue of the first grass and leaves is still buried under snow, the sound of runoff is everywhere.

On my way back up the hill to our little cabin, I stopped to record some of those runoff sounds and ended up recording in four different places with four very different sounds. Then I got back and was ready to show off my compositions, and realized that the 'failed to upload' warning that I got meant that the clips were gone.

So, I turned cellular data on for the app and headed back out. This time I was going downhill and I noticed the pattern more clearly than before. Whe I recorded just outside our cabin, the sound of the water is faint and almost lost in the sound of the breeze, but as I got further down the mountain, the sounds became much louder, more varied, and dependent upon the local conditions.

Here are the clips...

It occured to me that this is why David Wiley talks about the importance of downstream effects when resources are openly licensed.

Initially, my little contribution to the commons is easily drowned out by irrelevant and external forces, but as it is joined to other similar contributions, together, they make more of an impact. As more and more contributions are added to the commons, they become a more cohesive stream and a more powerful force in the world.

Every once in a while, on their way down stream, they go over a sharp incline and their combined effects become even more profound. But notice that if it had only been my one little contribution, it would have quickly been soaked into the ground or evaporated. It is really when other people begin to contribute their own ideas to mine, that the magic begins to happen.

Each obstacle or different local condition creates a different sound. The waterfall is a higher pitch and a more frenzied sound than where the water runs deeper through a narrow passage. And the sound is more muted but still loud and clearly recognizable when the little stream runs under a snowbank.

Open resources are much the same. The open license allows for localization, meaning that individual faculty are free to adjust the resource as they see fit, creating a slightly different, and better-for-them resource than existed before.