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Towards a Theology of Open Source Software, Part One

So I've used Free and Open Source Software for a long time, and I have friends in the ministry who don't and don't think about why they might. I think the main barrier there is the feeling that they must be “techy” or “a programmer” to successfully run a Linux operating system on their computer, or to use Kdenlive or Digikam in their creative work. I think another barrier might be one of ignorance, they never knew that maybe they should think about it. I'm here to talk about it, specifically to my friends who care about the work of Christ in this world, my friends who care about human care and flourishing in this world, and my friends who don't. If I have any friends who don't.

This is another multipart series because I've been trying to write more and shorter posts. I'm also going to start by arguing from a negative. Today we're going to start talking about

Why You Might Not Want To Use Proprietary Software

(I don't know how title case works. I was many different majors in college, none of them were Composition)

I'll do my best to onboard you into the jargon required as simply as possible. We need to start by defining some terms.

Proprietary Software – this is almost all the software you use day to day. The people who develop this software work in private, publish a usable digital object to you, but do not and will not tell you how they made it. This is usually done to preserve competitive advantage, and to make users pay for access to that software. It could also be done to prevent users from modifying software, for example preventing you (or some enterprising individual) from removing copy protection from a music CD you bought.

Free, Open Source Software – often shortened to FOSS, Open Source Software is software that is developed in public, by self organizing teams of people or by individuals, and published in both a usable form (like proprietary software) and in the form of source code, or the blueprints or plans that are used to build that usable digital object, the program that you download on to your computer and click on in the menu to do something. Imagine if you bought a car, and it came not only with the service manual (how to fix it), but also the engineering drawings, allowing you to build or modify it to your liking. A person with a machine shop could make their own replacement parts, a person with a sewing machine could make custom seat covers that fit just as closely as the originals.

There's often a big question from people, why would someone give away a useful digital object for free. There are as many different reasons as there are Open Source Contributors, but the reasons often include Intrinsic Motivation, like the joy of building or creating useful software, Activist Mentality, like the belief that software should be free (for many various reasons) and Practical Reasons, like the observed fact that open source software is more secure, because it has many many more people observing the source code, looking for errors. People also make careers in open source, whether by individual contributions (patron-funded) or by selling service and support (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical, the publishers of Ubuntu, are very large companies that “give away” the software, but charge for service contracts).

OK but why wouldn't I use proprietary software?

There's lots of practical reasons that are somewhat technical and can feel esoteric if you only use your computer like you use your car, by walking up to it and pressing the “on” button. I won't go in to those, other than to say that open source software is just as if not more secure, easy to use and powerful than proprietary software. Increasingly, these days, the visual design is also just as good, if not better. Just look at Element or Firefox.

Proprietary software, especially the kind that runs your computer and phone, is made by very very large companies that have goals counter to the Gospel and counter to Human Flourishing.

That's my big Why. Whether it's a proprietary operating system, like MacOS or Windows, a proprietary software utility like DropBox, iCloud, or Evernote, a proprietary web platform like Amazon (not linking them), a proprietary mobile platform like iOS or Android (With Google Web Services), a proprietary creative suite like Adobe Creative Cloud, or a proprietary social media service like Facebook (nope), Instagram (noper), Twitter (Elon Nope) or TikTok (不), the goals of these companies are counter to your goals as a minister or activist. When you participate in the exchange of attention, the cycle of using these platforms and letting them use you, you are both actively sustaining them with the only thing you have that they need (your attention) and you are opening your life, thoughts, creativity and self to being shaped by these services to be better fitted to them.

You may feel that a boycott by one person is pointless and a waste of time, that you can't hurt them by you alone refusing to use them. Even if that is true (and I don't concede that it is), removing yourself from proximity and the influence of these organizations is an undeniable good. Their goals run counter to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing. When they shape you, they will not shape you into someone more capable and able to contribute to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing, and I contend there is no way to use them without engaging in a mutual use cycle. Not the way they're designed.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #8.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel