Transition and technology (2/3): solution by Free software and community ?

The first article was trying to show the hidden part of our internet use, even if we do not see it, the environmental impact can be important. Although the societal imaginary tells us the opposite, it is in our way of using and approaching the Internet that our environmental impact is greater than it could be, because there is solutions that can bring our web use greener.

Another point that I would like to put forward and which will be seen more in the next and last article of the series, it is our approach of the new technologies, which internet is part. The degrowth movement has already thougth this point, without advocating the return to the candle that his detractors want him to wear, an ethical questioning on our what and how we use it is important. While new ideas are often abused, technological innovations are little questioned. It is important, however, that we do some questioning work if we want to be able to reflect on the societal and ecological transition.

During our visit in Mexico and especially in the metropolis of Monterrey, there was a logo that caught my attention. He was present on advertising posters, in transport, as well as on municipal or federal publications. While its breakthrough has not been strong in Western countries, the app What’s App is a must in the rest of the world where telephony is less affordable. The person we were staying at, worked for a government entity and even there, their means of communication was through groups of this application.

Here it is such application, but the example would be equivalent with other apps in different countries and companies. Internet brings a novelty in consumption, although we have bought the product, hence the issuing company still has control over it, we are not totally owners of what we use. A solution ?

Free software, technical explanation

logo Inkscape, vectorial drawing

First of all, what is free software? “Free software or libre software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price: users —individually or in cooperation with computer programmers— are free to do what they want with their copies of a free software (including profiting from them) regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed free insofar as they give users (not just the developer) ultimate control over the first, thereby allowing them to control what their devices are programmed to do“. Source of Wikipedia, free open encyclopedia using free software: MediaWiki.

Free software is software that everyone can learn more about, modify and share. In contrast, proprietary software is software that user can not have any information about; we can not know how it is done, how it works, let alone modify or share it.

Free software, the principle

Objects we use in our daily lives are sometimes a mystery to us, they respond to the function we want, but we do not know the mechanism. However, if desired, it is possible to study the object, open it, dissect it, read on it, understand the principle and finally if the object broke, we could fix it. With the presence of new electronic objects in our daily life this is less and less true. By analogy, free software is like these objects which we have a total control.

Logo Firefox, internet browser

If you ever use free software and want to know how it works, there is always a developer version that can be downloaded to read the code. (the code is the programming language used to create the software, the mechanics in a way) Everyone can have access to the mechanism and modify the software to better suit its use, but also to make a collective construction, because everyone bringing his idea from its view; the software can improve. This is how you use the browser Firefox, watch a video with the VLC media player or while reading an article on the Wikipedia encyclopedia.

This greater accessibility to the program engine also allows a greater security, because unlike proprietary software, we can also know all the features of the software, there can be no hidden function as a collection of data by example.

Why value free software?

logo Kdenlive, video production

Why internet would escape to a more local operation? The massive use of applications created by companies that have become the most powerful companies on the planet is one of the reasons for the environmental impact of the internet. Its applications, all proprietary software, whose total operation is not accessible to anyone, does not value an ethical use and environmental value. The purpose of these is to make profit, not to make us better citizens. Although many applications that we use via our phone or computer seem good for our daily life, it is good to put in mind that on the internet, when a private company gives you a free application is that you are the product.

transition linux free software logiciel libre
Ordinateur sous linux, pas plus compliqué. Computer under linux, no more complicated.

Free software is built on associative values ​​in order to grow the community. If I ever like a software but want an extra function, I could add it if I have the skills or ask the community; it could then be added to the software for the use of all. It should be noted that there are also private companies making free software, their economy being based for example on the after-sales service or the management of the software.

Free software is the fruit of a community, it means that everyone, computer scientist or not can participate. It is not necessary to know the different computer languages ​​to help, it is possible to participate by sharing the software, the contribution of ideas, try the software in trial version, etc. And that’s where it becomes important for us.

Free software and transition

We want our food more local, we want to produce our local energy, we want to have less waste, we want to know what we use, so why would we do not want to have total control over the computer tools we use?

Log the Gimp, Image editor

There is no question of having 5,000 local versions of a drawing software like Gimp. However, rather than paying proprietary software, it is possible to encourage free software. One can choose services offered by free software rather than GAFA services. As a user and being part of the community I could express my ideas about improvements more green than I would like.

As an internet user, there is two thing we all need, internet access and hosting for the things we put on it. And this is where the local aspect can also make sense. There are many associations now offering hosting that values ​​free software and a value charter that promotes societal and ecological transition.

logo Blender, 3D making

The web economy has got us used to a lot of free (wich is far from freedom), but why should an email be free? Yet it is now an address just as important as that of our home, it is sometimes referenced in government entities. Do we really want our private data such as taxes to communicate via an email that we do not have total control? It is possible to have a space at an associative host for $ 20 a year to have e-mail and storage space where you own. By doing this, no company will be able to use my data to make money, but on the contrary I would help a vision of the society which is in my values. Some associations, being non-profit, have a mission to offer free hosting to those who can not afford it. If we operate more locally, this type of organization could be done on a neighborhood scale and everyone involved could provide us with a service where the inhabitants would have a say, such as the management of a park or a street. etc.

Possible solutions

For some years now, a French association for free software has launched a campaign De-google-ify Internet. The goal is to offer the services offered by the largest private companies, but only with free software and no purpose to monetize behind. It is possible to communicate as a team, to share documents, to organize appointments and much more.

Image credits David Revoy for Contributopia – License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Last year, an evolution of this campaign was born Contributopia, a vision to make the Internet more ethical without trying to do the same as the giants of the net. From there was born the initiative CHATONS, a network of associative hosts offering services responding to a charter of values. Web hosts offering Framasoft online services as well as more traditional hosting. The goal is to make internet accessible also at least techie.

The vision that Framasoft is really interesting for a local aspect, since it is close to that of an AMAP (wich is like a farmer’s CSA box in USA), or the relationship with the user makes sense only if it remains small. Based on values of popular education, the various initiatives launched can only be encouraged and also going towards a path that we think is important: low tech.


Also published on Medium.

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