Functional Form

Avoiding side-effects since 2004.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

What Matters to Me and Why

I believe that the United States is in trouble. The pressure of this belief has been building inside of me for some time now, compelling me to respond. Growing from a vague doubt about the credibility of my government than began in elementary school, my concern is now an overriding sentiment in my daily consciousness. The protections of liberty and justice that were established as our founding basis are being grossly circumvented, and our system is being co-opted by the very forces of tyranny it was constructed to suppress.
In place of the state, corporations have risen as the premier wielders of global power, but their concern for profit margins is restricting the overall advancement of humanity and violating our natural rights. Like all of history's great injustices, its beneficiaries are going to great lengths to justify their actions and suppress any resistance. The mass media, around which our culture currently revolves, are owned by an increasingly shrinking pool of commercial empires whose motivations for objectivity are questionable. These institutionalized corporate public relations systems, combined with industry organizations that write, fund, and litigate legislation, place excessive amounts of power to shape our society's consciousness and governance in the hands of a few, unelected individuals. Be they political figures or capitalists, tyrants by any name are equally intolerable. As the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot, in good conscience, tacitly consent to systemic immorality in my own nation. If I believe it exists, it is my duty to fight it.
Exactly how that fight could be waged had, until recently, remained unclear. I felt as if I faced an unassailable problem, so large that no single individual had a chance in combatting it. But the past six months have brought about a massive shift in my attitude. I am becoming convinced that digital technology of the last ten years has precipitated a shift in the structure of society that has only barely begun to take effect. When I was a high school freshman, the Internet was almost entirely ignored by the majority of my classmates. For most, computers remained a rarely used tool, and those who occupied themselves with them were considered nerds. Things have shifted rapidly. With the explosion of instant messaging, digital music, online retailing, and now web logs, the use of information technology has gone mainstream. The network is growing exponentially, and shows no signs of slowing down.
And with the growth of the network, our behavior is also shifting. Television watching in advertising's target youth groups is beginning to decline, as is loyalty to major brand names. Information exchanged on the Internet is beginning to influence the news media, and, as can be seen with the success of Howard Dean, it is also influencing political campaigning and fundraising. The Internet isn't just changing business models, it's changing the fabric of society itself. With a cost-effective and convenient means of organizing global dialog, it sets us free from traditional intermediaries such as television stations and publishing firms. Information flows as easily to one person as it does to all, and everyone can afford to participate. The Internet represents, at last, an escape from the media giants that currently define the nation's norms and beliefs. Without point-to-point communication, we have been slaves to the whims of the broadcasters. By freeing our population's minds from the television sets that defined their worlds and giving them choices, the Internet is going to wake people up. Like Gutenberg's printing press, the freedom of information it grants us will cause a chain reaction, irreversibly changing the balance of global power.
But this freedom has enemies, those who seek to gain by limiting the flow of knowledge and controlling society's use of the network. The media industries seek to compete with a technology that makes them irrelevant by crippling it, ensuring their parasitic positions for the rest of time. Microsoft, a willing partner, plans to entrench its monopoly even further, expanding its control over the daily lives of users. By controlling our software, and, with technologies such as Trusted Computing, our hardware as well, the giants of yesterday are pursuing an unjust agenda. The technologies they promote would make my use of computation subject to their permission, projecting absolute control into my daily existence. I hold freedom of information as the digital era's self-evident corollary to freedom of speech. It my a natural right, and Microsoft and company's attempts to revoke it represent a direct attack on me. But this time, I know how to fight back.
I knew about the GNU/Linux operating system for a long time before its implications finally began to sink in. In 1983, it was the project of a single principled MIT hacker who quit his job to pursue a vision. Just 20 years later, the project he began alone is rocking the industry, with the largest players in technology investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a system that is free to everyone. Richard Stallman's efforts have cascaded into a movement that is spreading rapidly, promoting a simple idea: I grant you the rights to do anything with my work, so long as you do not limit the rights of anyone else to do the same. The system is developed through collaboration, and when one person adds a feature for his own use, everyone benefits. But the real key is that, as a collaboratively developed resource that is owned by everyone, no one company can use the software to violate the rights of consumers. Those who try to cripple this system won't get very far, because users will simply find the limitation in code and remove it. Thus, the state of the art is advanced while freedom is preserved.
Not only do I consider this model of software development technically and morally superior, I also relish the fact that GNU/Linux has the capacity to damage an abusive software monopoly. Microsoft claims that free software threatens to destroy the global software industry. In truth, what is really at stake is their global software empire. If the public can produce software that is technically superior and free of costs or limitations, Microsoft can no longer use its position to manipulate and exploit the public. Rather than destroying the industry, a system which puts the same innovation in the hands of all users can only accelerate the pace of change and, in turn, the demand for new software. It just might not be made by Bill Gates.
I have come to view the Free Software Movement as one of the most important opportunities in history. Just by sharing my work, I have the chance to dethrone those who threaten my rights and aid in the development of humans worldwide. Luckily, I am equipped with the skills I need to participate, and I plan to use them. I am dedicating myself to the construction of a next-generation operating system for release under public license within the next ten years. Stallman's Gnu was a copy of commercial Unix, but Unix is far from the final word on OS design. I want to build something vastly better, and I want it to be free, aimed to drive a final stake into the heart of a monster that threatens my way of life. If I learn enough to implement my ideas, I hope they will provide just one more reason for the world to demand the freedom they are due. I will join a force that the abusers of wealth cannot eliminate or buy off: the unstoppable power of unleashed creativity.


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