I met up with Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, for lunch today in San Francisco. Two people passing our table recognized him. Both used the word “open” in their brief chats with him. Needless to say, he told them they were using the wrong word — that “free” (as in freedom) was the only one that will do to describe his work and philosophy.
Our conversation was also about freedom, in the context of who controls our technology and communications. Hint: For the most part it’s not the users of technology and communications tools.
Stallman is relentless, and sometimes abrasive, in his approach to making things happen. He describes himself as pessimist by nature, yet he sees some signs of progress. Yes, there are constant encroachments on our liberties by governments, corporations and the metastasizing plutocracy that seeks dominance of the economy and culture in service of wealth and power. But the often-tentative progressive movement is also starting to gain some strength, he said, even if it’s outmatched for now.
As I’ve said before, I deeply admire Stallman and his work, even if I don’t fully buy his prescriptions. Yes, I have decided that sometimes convenience outweighs absolute freedom; I recognize that makes me hypocritical in some ways, and I’ll live with that.
But I am determined to help people understand the consequences of using technology that others control. If we don’t realize what we’re doing, even when it’s costing us dearly in terms of our liberty, we can’t possibly make wise choices, whether they’re easy or difficult.