Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Progress? It depends on your perspective

I had a disturbing discussion with a family member recently. There were no arguments over facts; we agree on the facts underlaying our discussion. Yet I was shocked at how discouraged he was by the state of the world, and the prospects for progress. No matter what examples I raised, he had more examples which convince him that we're moving backwards. Neither of us managed to convince the other to change their mind. That part wasn't unusual! But I'm unused to encountering this negative view of the universe. I live in the US, and I know that our politics is full of fail!

In the FOSS community, I rarely come across this depressed perspective. In fact, quite the opposite. So I've been thinking about why this is. Perhaps it is because we are involved in changing the world! After all, we aren't just building and distributing free software; we're showing the world that freedom and friendship work. We constantly demonstrate that we can cooperate; with team members, with up and downstreams, with for-profit companies and with non-profit groups, with government and educational groups, and on and on.

We promote freedom, we promote equality, we promote quality. We constantly develop new friendships, we pay attention to our users, and those users help us help them by filing bug reports, cooperating with quality initiatives, by testing, by donating money. We learn to promote our projects, learn to give talks, speeches and reports, learn to build websites, write documentation, learn to communicate in multiple venues, and even learn to recognize bad behavior by friends and team members, or maybe even burnout in our own lives. And of course, we learn what to do in those tough situations, along with dealing with bugs in our software, crochety hardware and processes, or outdated techniques.

I've been reading a book about increasing brain fitness, (bad title warning): Make Your Brain Smarter, by Sandra Bond Chapman which might shed some light. In the section about innovation and creativity, she says you:
incite innovation ... when you: ... broaden and revamp your perspectives... by reading different types of books, exposing yourself to different types of people.... Dismantle old linkages of information to allow new thoughts to brew, ponder free-flowing ideas, consciously ... convert ideas into deliberate change [and] reflect and learn from mistakes -- quickly. [p. 115]
This is what I see in Linuxchix, in the KDE and Kubuntu teams I work in, and on the lists, forums, planets, and in IRC. I hear new perspectives, hear about books, hear from new people, and different people, see new ideas, and old ideas blown up, and see how immediate feedback improves quality fast. Every day!

I think these experiences explain the difference between hope and despair between my family member and me. Not only do I see many groups in my country and around the world who are making a difference, I'm part of a great movement which is improving the world. Whether or not this is the "year of the linux desktop," we are making great software, software which we use, software we are proud to share with the world. We're not only having fun doing it; we're part of how you make the world a better place.

PS: We're getting smarter and healthier as we do so, I hope. By the way, I'm encouraging my family member to get involved in our projects. Here's hoping.


  1. I agree with your conclusion that being part of open source/free software initiatives changes attitude. One can truly make a difference and the only requirement is an Internet connection and some hard work. I find hard to believe how it would promote equality though. :-) I think is is inequality we should actually be promoting because all in all being different is what I find exciting in open source and ability to choose. If you meant that man/woman/race equality stuff .. well man and woman are not equal (and at the same time neither is better or worse in general) I would instead say that everybody contributes at equal terms and should be equally encouraged and appreciated. ;) Thanks and regards!

  2. I totally share your point of view, I'm really optimistic for the future, thanks to Free Software! With all the bad things that happen in real and virtual world, I understand easily why some people simply give up without fighting.

    It's nice to see some sensible humans in this world! And I think we can change the «real» world too, but it'll be difficult…

  3. This is a brilliant post, thanks!

    I couldn't have put in better words why I believe and participate in free software, and the reason I feel so optimistic in life when apparently society is undergoing a major crisis.

    I want the future to be bright, and I'll help build it, with the help of many others!


  4. >we're showing the world that freedom and friendship work

    Depends on your definition of "working".. The Free desktop projects have also shown the limitations of the Free software projects, for example backwards compatibility is usually very limited because it isn't a "fun" part of development.