When I founded SilenceBreaker Media, and it became apparent that we were going to favour open source operating systems on the computers we’d reconditioned, I found myself being a bit of a hypocrite.
As a media student, I’d used my student loan to buy myself a crappy computer with Windows on it and a lame 8GB of hard drive space that even my phone outdoes these days and was cutting films on Adobe Premiere Pro as a step-up from old school linear videotape editing, thinking I was cool. Then I got a job with the council based in a multimedia suite full of Macs and was soon using not just Adobe Photoshop, but Final Cut Pro, as well. Eventually, I actually replaced my Windows laptop that had superseded my 8GB beast with my very own MacBook Pro. But not all was as it seemed: I’d hired freelance editors to work on my film Escape from Doncatraz on a timescale of several months, and yet their Mac-based Final Cut Pro effort was even worse than my all-nighter solo editing job I’d done with Adobe Premiere Pro for my guerilla documentary, Get Over It.
Sure, the Mac resisted all those viruses that were made to exploit Windows, which was as clunky as Microsoft’s Messenger that to this day amazes me for the fact that people continue to use it. But there was something very eerie about the whole culture: Apple devices designed to only work with other Apple devices…clean white presentation…even a “Genius” Bar. It all seemed so, well, fascist.
SilenceBreaker Media forced me to change. Their dedication to free software and reconditioned kit meant that I had to practice what I preached. I got rid of the MacBook and my iPhone, and switched to a Compaq and a Samsung Galaxy with Android on it. I learned the hard way, forcing myself to adjust to the hardware and software I’d promoted so much while representing SilenceBreaker Media. I haven’t looked back since. It feels better to be in a fluid environment where things can be adapted and altered and customised a bit more, and are in most cases literally free software, not part of the technological monopolization, but about innovation.
However, I was still somewhat naive. The world of free software is not exactly one of anti-corporate values of communal sharing, as its trailblazerRichard Stallmanmay have you believe. Often, it’s quite the opposite. Many GNU/Linux based operating systems make their money offering support for the distribution once that distro is installed for free. Take Ubuntu – probably the most accessible, popular and user-friendly version of Linux “for dummies.” Following the banking crisis, its founder Mark Shuttleworth, despite his long involvement in the free software, or “open source” world, seemed to call for more regulation, yet in practically the same breath tried toavoidblaming capitalism for its post-Soviet destruction of Russia, when all evidence actually shows it was neoliberalism, not regulation, that dragged that country to its lowest depths in a century. Self-proclaimed “accidental revolutionary” Eric S. Raymond wrote what became practically an open source bible in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and yet is agun nutand was seen virtually foaming at the mouth in the documentary Revolution OS when the comparison to communism came up – he’s like Ted Nugent on steroids.
If this seems a little contradictory, allow me to explain: the anarchist types in the open source movements aren’t all progressive. They reconcile their libertarian approach to technology in the same way they reconcile, say, their belief that gun control is bad: they’re anarcho-capitalists – anti-state Social Darwinists who believe in a world where nothing is controlled, in a free-for-all where it’s survival of the fittest. There are open source gurus even more aggressive than Mark Shuttleworth who also reconcile their business attitude in the same way: the strongest shall survive, and if you’re weak, it’s too bad. Even the notorious Tea Party claim they’re “open source.” I realise this all sounds a bit grim. There have, of course, been great uses of the open source ethos applies to society. So it’s not all that bad. Even Linux creator Linus Torvalds admits to being a socialist.
But as Jonathan Davisexplains, there is a danger of the open source nature of much of this technology at our disposal being co-opted by right-wing libertarians who despise regulation more than they do corporate greed. So, it is what we make it. And we need to make it our own – to give freedom to internet-users who seek to give avoice to the voiceless, rather than reinforce the big media status quo. That’s why at SilenceBreaker Media, we feel that free software reflects ourvalues.