Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Freedom on Buses, Computers and Everywhere

English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...
Rosa Parks (ca. 1955)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I watched the president of the USA speak at the installation of the statue of Rosa Parks. She was an icon of the US movement for civil rights when I was just a child.

He said,
"Whether out of inertia or selfishness, whether out of fear or a simple lack of moral imagination we so often spend our lives as if in a fog, accepting injustice, rationalizing inequity, tolerating the intolerable like the bus driver but also like the passengers on the bus. We see the way things are, children hungry in a land of plenty, entire neighbourhoods ravaged by violence, families hobbled by job-loss or illness and we make excuses for inaction. We say to ourselves that's not my responsibility. There's nothing I can do. Rosa Parks tells us there's always something we can do. She tells us that we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to one another. She reminds us this is how change happens. Not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage and kindness and fellow feeling and responsibility that continually stubbornly expand our conception of justice, our conception of what is possible. Rosa Parks' singular act of disobedience launched a movement. "

In the world of computers we have our own Rosa Parks, Richard Stallman, who expanded the concept of freedom to include:

  • running the software,
  • examining the software,
  • modifying the software, and
  • distributing the software.

To some, these are wild, impractical concepts but they are living in a fog, not seeing the Digital Divide which excludes the poor or remote people from having good information technology. They don't see the unfairness of owning a computer but being forbidden reasonable use of it through unconscionable requirements of a licensing agreement designed to enrich some monopolist. They don't see the cruel waste of resources when a system must be rebooted to save it from waves of malware tolerated by the rich and powerful. They don't see the huge inefficiency of paying many times over what an operating system or other software should cost in a competitive market. They don't see the unfairness of users being forced to pay for a licence for X because they are using software Y. Multiplied injustice is a more heinous injustice. They don't see the unfairness of excluding the bulk of mankind from making better software.

On the other hand, freedom everywhere is the right way to do things. Freedom makes families better with youngsters able to grow happy and healthy in all ways. Freedom makes businesses better by allowing hard work and creativity to flourish. Freedom makes governments better by making sure everyone has a say. Freedom makes schools better by opening the minds of the young to new ideas. Freedom is the right way to do IT. Without restrictions on what can be done with software all of us can do more with IT, stuff we can buy, build and use in whatever way suits us better.

If you want to get the best from your investment in information technology, use Free Software (FLOSS, Free/Libre Open Source Software). You can be sure you need real freedom to use that technology to best advantage every day in practice, not just in theory. Freedom is something real that should matter to you. It's not hard to have freedom in IT. No one will be able to kick you off the bus for doing IT the right way. It's easy. Just install a distribution of FLOSS provided by many organizations. You can have the GNU/Linux operating system, and a range of software packages providing a graphical user interface, many applications and many services for your networks, all managed by a simple software management application. That feature alone is sufficient reason to change. Freedom just guarantees you the right to have that efficiency and effectiveness no matter what happens.

-- Robert Pogson

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. The GPL and other licenses like it give you certain rights. With regards to the software so licensed! The claim that the GPL makes you any more free beyond the freedoms granted by it is absurd.

    "They don't see the unfairness of owning a computer but being forbidden reasonable use of it through unconscionable requirements of a licensing agreement designed to enrich some monopolist."

    Which unfairness? It can't be unfair unless you deem it to be unfair! Unless a user thinks to herself that she'd like to spend the afternoon inspecting the source code of proprietary application X, only to find out that she can't, only then may she deem this unfair. But even then it's thus far merely her personal opinion. She'd now have to objectify that this unfairness perceived by her is, in fact, not only her personal problem, but is somehow systemic. Like, say, women being paid less money for the same work. That is unfair. Not being able to see the source code of software X, not being able to redistribute software X freely ... that's not unfair.

    It's also abundantly clear that you basically want to deny companies (even if we all know that the "monopolist" is your sworn enemy: Microsoft) their basic freedom: to make money. That you mix up with your claim that making money through selling proprietary software is unethical and results in a "digital divide". Well, it makes for a nice bed-time story, but this "digital divide" is the result of the failure of politics. The simple truth is that in today's society it's impossible to have reasonably well-paid work for everyone. Full employment is impossible, yet the mainstream of politics still pursues such policies. The resultant unfairness on these grounds one can alleviate (or try to) through private initiative, like, for example, Reglue (formerly HeliOS) does by providing children with computers and internet access. But first and foremost it's still a political problem. A problem in need of a political solution. One needs to fix the cause, not the effect.

    That said, I'm not saying that your thoughts are all wrong, if I liberally extrapolate them and say that -- in this digital age -- you want software in general to be free (as in speech and beer) and internet access too, and that you want (commodity) hardware cheap (or free?) and open, and these things should all become institutionalized freedoms. No, I'm not saying that you are wrong to want that, to demand that. But what I'm saying is this:

    For this to succeed you need another society!

    And we are not anytime near it. In my opinion.

  2. You seem to be in a better mood today. I think it helps your writing. Practice.