Social Justice: “the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society.”
I think one of the most important lessons the free software movement has taught me is to stop thinking about software as a product. I had to re-align my thinking and realize I have the power to say, “hey I don’t like the way this feature works” or “the program would be so much better if I could do X”. It was a whole change on my out look about how I consume technologies to get to the point where I realized that I have the potential to change the technologies I use.
Before I came to the free software and larger free culture movement I just accepted what I was given. If the program says that I can’t download the song more than three times even though I already paid for it, oh well, that’s just how it goes. If my cell phone won’t backup my address book unless I store it with Verizon’s servers, with who knows what privacy features, and with a monthly fee, well that’s just the way it is.
Learning the motives and the ins and outs of the free software movement taught me to expect more of my service providers. It taught me that I deserve* privacy, that I deserve autonomy over the technology that I use, and I also deserve to be able to manipulate that technologies that mediate how I communicate with people. I didn’t realize that I could expect privacy in regards to my information. I dont have to put up with a DRM model of music, it sucks. We need an alternative model (like spottily or something of the sort) that emphasizes user rights. It is our job to put our heads together and come up with systems that pay artists, yet doesn’t screw over our right to have control over the software we use. Under the guise of these smaller lessons I had to learn that I am not merely a consumer. What I my decisions are, what I decide to consumer or not, what I decide to produce, or say, matters and I need to be aware of my position in the world. Meaning, it is irresponsible to put myself in the role of innocent “consumer.”
Putting myself in the role of la(z)y consumer means that I forfeit my ability to give back, to contribute to the way in which technology comes to be designed. I leave out any valuable information I might have from my place of situated knowledge. I’m not just talking about software, but websites, blogs, wiki’s etc… I consume and consume images and information for hours on end everyday. I should not only just consume, but contribute back. For example, by creating a blogpost about how to hunt for the best vintage finds, or give a much needed feminist perspective on the latest news scandal, or edit a wikipedia page. I constantly consume other people’s work and ideas. But how often do I share my knowledge that may (or may not) be useful to someone else? I have a lot of great ideas that could be shared with people if only I put the time into communicating them effectively. It is my responsibility to make sure that I’m producing content for people to benefit from as I benefit from their work.
But the larger point is not about my specific ideas or the blog post I am, or am not writing, that may, or may not, be useful to someone. This is about a larger cultural consciousness of just accepting the technology given without question, without regard to our rights, to our freedom, or our privacy. Without encouragement to re-imagine new ways these technologies could exist and evolve. Many of us are not thinking outside of the box, to the role we could have outside of “just consumer.” We need to take ourselves and our ideas seriously. And we need to take our privacy and freedom seriously.
I leave you with Aaron Swartz talk about how he helped end SOPA and PIPA. He says something at the end of the talk, something like he could have just curled up on the couch, popped some popcorn, and watched transformers. But he didn’t. And we have his work (and many others!!) to thank for a SOPA & PIPA free web. What if he had decided to just stay in and watch TV? Where would we be if all those who advocated for these vital issues decided to leave it to someone else? He says that this will happen again, and he’s right, so we can’t just sit back and leave it up to someone else. I don’t have the answers on how to be a responsible consumer, but I do think that changing my attitude to realize I have a social responsibility was the first step for me towards that end. I’m am afraid I sound self-righteous, and that I sound as if I have an elevated idea of my position in the world. This is not my intention. I merely think that if we, not just me, took ourselves seriously as not just consumers, but instead people with ideas and the need to protect freedoms, there would be a huge cultural shift for the better. A world of people who critically question. A world that is active in defending their civil liberties and re-imagining ways out of oppression.
And as promised here’s Aaron:
*I’m not sure what I think about using the word “deserve” because it implies I’ve done something and now I should be rewarded. That’s not quite what I mean, but I don’t know what word to use otherwise.