Perspectives of Free Software as a Social Movement, 11 years later


Some worries and suggestions from 2009, still (sadly) valid today.

Perspectives of Free Software as a Social Movement, 11 years later /img/students-at-2008-quito-conference.jpg

Exactly eleven years ago I gave a talk in Quito about “Perspectives of Free Software as a Social Movement”. Let’s see at how much the main points of that talk in 2008 are still valid today (of it is still valid today (full slides here):

Who should care first (about Free Software)

The quality of our lives and our civil rights depend every year more on which software and electronic devices are used around us and on how they are used. Even if we don’t own a computer. Consequently, education in, and support of, this field does NOT belong to computer education: it is civic education!

Role of software licenses

Free Software activists have often been the first to spot problems [created or amplified by software], but this doesn’t mean the solutions start from Free Software. The actual impact of hardware and software digital technologies on civil rights and equal opportunities is a combination of many factors. Quite often, however, the license of the software involved in some “digital rights” problem is either irrelevant or a really secondary issue. Examples include:

  • Energy efficiency
  • E-voting
  • Net Neutrality
  • Freedom of speech
  • Transparency of Public administrations

Limits of traditional activist approaches

The default attitude and communication strategy [of “orthodox” Free Software advocates] often seem just elitist. For more on this, see (both from 2006):

Focusing on software is often wrong, or at least less effective, both technically and strategically:

  • Software programs are pens, file formats are alphabets: if the alphabet is free and standardized, who really cares if the pen is patented? Do pen manufacturers have the same lock-in power of software office suites developers?

Who makes the most damage?

Who limits the freedom of other people the most, that is who damages society the most?

  • a Windows user who produces and exchange files in the OpenDocument format with MS Office, or…
  • A Gnu/Linux / OpenOffice user who produces and exchange files in .doc, .ppt or .xls closed formats?

From Free Software activism to a mass Social Movement

Real, positive change in all social spheres impacted by software will only happen if there is direct involvement of a number of non-technical citizens orders of magnitude bigger than the current population of Free Software, Free Culture and Digital Rights activists.

Redefining priorities

Making more people use Free Software, or making all existing software Free as in Freedom, is not the most urgent priority: instead, focus on making people support Free Software, rather than using it personally. And make people always use and demand Free as in Freedom Formats. Above all, always start from what people really need and care about.

Technology is legislation, and the role of Catholics

Caring about (digital) technology means caring for a better world. This is why Free Software and digital rights movements must become a mass social movement as soon as possible

To make this happen it is necessary to change language and priorities (which does not mean renegading the GNU manifesto or giving up the four freedoms: it’s just inserting them in the big picture). And Catholics have even more reasons than others for playing an active role in this field, as a service to the whole society!

That was 2008. What about today?

Those were my concerns and suggestions. Today, too little has changed, as you can see comparing free software to climate change, or what others say is still missing from the Free/Open Source Software movement.

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