The Free Software Foundation #1

I’ve been answering a couple of questions about the Free Software Foundation on Quora, recently.

Here’s the latest.

Should social (software) freedoms as espoused by the Free software Foundation trump technical superiority as implied by the Open Source development paradigm?


The political message of the Free Software Movement is much bigger and more important than the “look this is a cool way to develop software” message that the Open Source people developed.

Our world is being eaten by software. Everything we do in our lives today has a layer of software mediation. And that layer of software is getting thicker, and the layer of free humans with their own discretion to make decisions, is getting thinner.

So at the supermarket you pay a machine rather than someone at a checkout. If you buy on Amazon, almost all your shopping interaction is with server farms, not service workers. Same with most companies, you deal with websites and bots rather than receptionists. We learn from online videos rather than take personal classes. Factories build things with more and more robots and 3D printers and fewer and fewer humans assembling and welding parts. We manage our social relations via social media rather than meet in person in pubs and cafes. Yes, we love socializing and we do a lot of pubs and cafes too. But the proportion of our social lives mediated through software just keeps getting higher and higher. We increasingly vote via software. Manage our money via software. Manage our health bureaucracy via software. Police watch us via software. The military fights wars increasingly through software (cyber attacks on enemy computer networks and autonomous drones).

The world is being eaten by software. And that means the limits of your freedom, to what you can and can’t do in this world, are encoded into and determined by the software that the machines run. And those are decided by whoever programs / owns and controls the software.

In this world eaten by software, we have no freedom if we can’t ensure that the software works for us. If the software works for someone else, that someone else rules every aspect of our lives.

And this what the Free Software Foundation and the Free Software philosophy stands for. For the fight to push back against having our lives controlled through software, by giving us the right to see and control what software runs the machines that inscribe our lives.

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