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# Notes on free software and sustainability 

Lately I’ve been working on material for local action in my city, using knowledge I learnt over the past years after participating, attending and aiding in various activities, such as self-managed radios, hacklabs, events, meetings, convocations and workshops. I’ve been struggling not because I lack resources or people to ask to. There are amazing wonderful people I’ve met through the years with countless examples and resources to share. But because writing a generic thing is hard, if not wrong. I’ve learn one of the most wonderful things about free software and hardware is the ability to break the globalisation issues. We don’t have to all resemble a single culture (usually for most of the cases The States) to fit as users or creators in tech, because its malleability makes all the resources some sort of “basic templates” ready to be bended, broken and stitched into something new which fits in the needs of a certain community or culture without loosing its shape. I already somehow knew but realised when reading the wonderful paper “After the Internet” by Ramesh Srinivasan and Adam Fish. So, how can I write something that works “generally”? I’m trying to write it for Spain, for some parts of Europe at most. But falling into “general rules” goes against the self-managed plural communities. Generic is too easy and crushing for the future I’d like to picture. I’m nevertheless trying my best to write something “practical” and malleable, just as good free software is. Something that bears a shape but its means can be easily changed and recycled. 

My main concern right now, what I want to pursue is sustainable technology. Technology, as it is in most context, it’s not sustainable. Not only due to the energy sources, but the way it’s “consumed” or quickly created, not caring much if it uses twice the resources needed in the background, or if it needs lo load tracking systems, huge profiling algorithms or flashy consuming visual resources. As an art student I appreciate so much the visual language, but the way it’s commonly used resembles casino-like gambling machines rather than simply pleasing visuals.  After listening to climate change experts in the scientific field, and after facing very little resources in self-managed communities, the very same issue came to the surface again and again: we need to ease off. So it’s not just a matter of building free software “alternatives” of abusing non sustainable tech, but creating our own ways, ways that are sustainable, light enough to be used in a community with little resources which also demonstrates a different way of facing tech is possible. I keep seeing how the free software community feels like we have to create every possible tool that tech companies create, and therefore it’s always chasing after their means, their products. But free software doesn’t need to chase anyone nor anything, it needs to build an alternative not for commercial software nor commercial hardware, but a lifestyle alternative. If a commercial software exists and the free software community replicates a free version it might be transparent, but it was created out of a privative perspective, without criticism or context awareness. It might be useful but fails to propose a hopeful situation in which we might don’t need that. While making this effort is itself a privilege (sadly time these days seems to be a privilege) so it is building new software and hardware. 

Additionally, I believe that a free software community that acts only mimicking the privative tech solutions leave very little room for non-technical people, since the programming abilities themselves are the most important values in this context. In a sustainable focused free software and hardware, insight and plural experiences are required to think the weight and means of the free tech, meaning non technical roles have significant weight further than users. Offering a tech that’s only changing and understood by technicians (or at least created in such way only programmers are able to choose or decide over it) it’s doomed to mimic a non-horizontal structure.  Free software communities are not meant to be companies or deliver products and “going back” a few technical steps to propose new insights might actually be going forward. I recently went through a presentation in a Hacklab to deliver some information regarding Linux threats landscape, something that I’m very aware of due to my job. While explaining some approaches on how to handle or understand these issues I mentioned that simpler and more private tech resources would be easier to protect, and less likely to be targeted, as well (not because of the user relevance but because automatic attacks are created based on general OS and structures, including common Linux OS). Somehow this lead to a discussion on resources and someone explained how “we are passed that because it existed in the 90’s”. 

Maybe we need to go back there and start over! Maybe we don’t, but it’s worth trying, after seeing how obviously tech is affecting our world. Individual actions aren’t very relevant in the climate/sustainability context, but communities are a different thing. Free software already brought together tons of people who are interested in creating a better daily life, and a greater context on the Internet (with no tracking algorithms, no anxiety and lots of care for other anonymous users). People usually mock well-means mistaking those for naiveness. But free software already demonstrated people are aiming to create things that work, just out of willingness to help others. This is so powerful companies tried to phagocytize these communities as well (by buying seats in free software congresses, discussions panels, associations or even solutions) not only to step on those but also because they work even better. This is not only a tech thing, in art it happens the same, as I’m sure it happens everywhere, those are the ways of capitalism. This is no secret, nothing they wouldn’t agree to, it’s the way it is. But as a community that already broke some statements, it can keep breaking others. 

Going back again to Ramesh Srinivasan and Adam Fish insight on globalisation, easing off is necessary to take time to think on how are we affecting different contexts: I’m aware that some parts of LATAM, f.e. have been facing climate change direct impact way before Europe or The States, so they must have tons of ideas regarding sustainability and tech; several people are affected by aggressive ableism in global tech; many trans feminist groups are left to work by the means of white generic feminism offered by the general tech solutions, or given a small space almost as a “gift” by centralised panoptic (grossly meaning: non transparent, central directed) tech resources. Richard Sennet, an antrophology researcher, also speaks about free software community as “artisans”, which I personally think is a very romantic way of understanding the community. Artisans require time, retakes and patience to create something, otherwise it becomes regular “fast-food” like things: producst.  So there are important questions to be made here. Do we want products or do we want something else? Products will fall again under the means of capitalism, which, hey, you might agree. But then again, is it a community the place and the context to grow that? 

I truly hope that the free software community has the ability to turn the means of tech, to think twice about it, because I’ve seen it before: with the Fediverse, with new protocols, with hardware. It keeps growing in plural amazing directions, and I keep finding amazing people doing new things that are lighter and simpler and functional, while still malleable and transparent. So I will just keep focusing on pushing myself and others towards that way, because it’s the way we can still offer an alternative to new generations and of course older us. 

I’d like to finally mention the amazing Ursula K.Le Guin, which believed in a world where caring and insightful people had weight and means to work out their society. Her stories give me strength to believe our world could be like that as well. Far from naiveness, it’s plain and serious hope!