Freedom Box

ian   March 15, 2010   Comments Off on Freedom Box
I’ve spent the last few posts trying to explain the philosophical and social reasons why we need to move away from centralized, intermediated tools for communicating with each other. There is more to be said on that topic but, with LibrePlanet later this week, I want to talk directly about how we can replace these dangerous tools and combine them into a free software social networking distribution like the one called for here.

The Idea

We should all have good tools for digital socializing, but Facebook and similar programs are not them. These “social networking” tools all share a fatal flaw. While they claim to connect you with the people in your life, what they actually do is connect everyone in your life to the man in the center running the social network. All communication with your friends has to go through the network operator first. Once you tell him, he tells your friends for you. Or sometimes he tells too many people and you get upset. But what are you going to do, stop talking to the people in your life? This is like no social network on earth; it is more like a giant game of telephone where they hold all the strings. And it is systematically unsafe. Rather than build our digital lives as part of their networks, we need to bring some of our real life social structures to the digital world. In real life we don’t talk to each other through a central intermediary. Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone in your family, or office, or town had to go through a single person in order to talk with each other? In real life we talk to each other directly, which works a lot better. Our digital tools could work like that too. Many, like the internet, were designed with exactly this kind of direct communication structure in mind. We got the centralized, intermediated tools that we have now mostly because the people designing them thought of us as children who could never learn to run our own. That dismissal of our competence comes up regularly when you talk about moving away from centralized services, but it ignores us too quickly. It is just as possible for everyone to run their own web server as it is for everyone to know how to read, and both should be social goals in the 21st century. To think otherwise is to believe that we can never build tools well enough for people to learn them, no matter how many generations go past, and no matter how central a role those tools come to play in our lives. It is a belief that sells our engineers, our teachers, and our selves short, and one that will only fade as we learn how to run our own communication networks. The alternative is to stay childish and incapable, digitally speaking. It is time to grow up and take the private communications of our lives back into our own hands. We have all of the individual tools we need, email, IM, photo sharing, etc, but putting them all together into the system we deserve will take a little assembly. Don’t worry if you are not a software developer and you feel like building digital tools is beyond you. If we decide we want tools for ourselves and are willing to lend some time and support, there are lots of great developers out there who will build them as Free Software for everyone to use, learn from, and share. In these next few posts we’ll outline what I think that new network looks like and how we might put it together.

    Posts in this series

    Part 1 – The Idea: Freedom Box Part 2 – Finding each other: Dynamic DNS Facebook Part 3 – Talking amongst ourselves: Friend-to-Friend Network Part 4 – Putting the pieces together: Freedom Box schematic Part 5 – Making it easy: Look and Feel