Bless me readers for I have sinned, it has been approximately 2 weeks since my last confession. What brings me in today is concerns over several sins I am committing against software freedom. Not to mention good taste. For you see dear reader amongst other things I am guilty of writing this very blog post on a Windows XP machine. With Microsoft Office 2003. Thank God it is virtualized nowadays and doesn't have an independent Internet connection.
I am also guilty of virtualizing this machine in a virtualbox. Using Gmail as my e-mail client. Depending on 15 year old binary blobs in a supposedly open source accessibility system and numerous other infractions that would make my erstwhile cohorts in Debian roll their eyes and frown in disapproval. And I can't imagine the Fedora community would be entirely approving if I were to ask. What is worse dear reader is you can't offer me absolution because I don't intend to stop committing these infractions until better solutions present themselves.
Why you may ask? Well let's take just one example the first one I gave. Why would an ethical open-source professional, use such things? Well it's about the other piece of non-free software I rely on.
As a disabled user I rely on dictation software in order to write. Not in all situations. I can usually write code, shorter e-mails, commit messages etc. without having to resort to voice to text software. But by the end of the day, my hands are just too tired to do it. And there is no current free software solution to the dictation problem,. Not one which does not involve Google Cloud Platform in some fashion or other.
So what am I to do in this situation? I respect software freedom as the foundational principle on which all modern techno ethics is built. I have made sacrifices of time, talent and treasure meager though they have been. To build a world in which the digital revolution reaches all people. I recognize that not practicing what I preach creates problems. That freedom has its costs. My life would be immeasurably easier if I just gave up and installed Windows, for a while at least.
But again I come to a problem. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to write in order to respect software freedom. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to read. Purely because of Digital Restrictions Management and software freedom again.
We are talking here about basic life of the mind stuff. Three years ago I had to report the Library of Congress to the Software Freedom Conservancy for violating the GPL. Yes you read that right! The people who enforce copyright were potentially violating copyright to produce reading devices for the blind and physically handicapped.
Software freedom Ethics would dictate I should stop using this device. At least until the GPL violations are resolved. If I did that i would loose access to hundreds of books which are only available on that device
Do I give up my intellectual freedom in favor of software freedom? That doesn't seem like freedom to me, that seems a prison of my own making
We act as if Software Freedom were the be-all and end-all of techno ethics. We make the software and if the users choose not to use it that's their personal responsibility they should know what they're giving up.
Does the Fault lie with me
So am I a bad activist for choosing to prioritize my own intellectual freedom over `the cause`? I don't think so I think the cause has flaws. Unless you are in the privileged position to be able to choose free software you will inevitably defaced with these trade-offs.
Whether that's the life of the mind or communicating with your COVID stricken relatives The analysis of privilege and all that is not for me to do. Although it is worth noting that I haven't seen much of it in our community lately except around codes of conduct and suchlike. So I'm wondering if it's a flaw in me am I reading the wrong sources? Or is it the community failing to consider the techno-ethical discussion in the context of broader social justice principles?
My answer to this question is a tentative, both. If anyone knows of anything shoot me a comment or a Mastodon or something. So what are we who are without the privilege to do. Well the approach I've settled on is harm reduction. I use the XP VM because it's set up in such a way as to not send all my works in progress to the cloud. And I only use it for the first pass. I take the raw output and shape it into the final post here on a self hosted Wordpress.
Some may criticize my approach as ultimately self serving. I can't even live up to my own standards at times. Witness GMail. YouTuber Tom Scott once remarked that Everyone draws the ethical line just under what they are doing. But I wish to strive for better, so should we all.
Copyright © 2023 Matt Arnold CC-NC-BY-SA 4.0