Have you ever wondered why are there people willing to pay for a software like iA Writter, when there are several free (both money and freedom) alternatives? This is something that gets me quite intrigued, as I most of the time feel these cravings for good designs, but not at the level to rent it. The only explanation I found for people to buy these software was because throughout design, the developer can make the user feel more happy, comfortable, superior, productive, etc.
However, recently I found in Mastodon this article from The Verge named Social media is doomed to die, and it clarified it all with 6 words:
People want to be a product!
The article is an insiders view on how social media projects with good intentions become into the mess of platforms there exists today, and most people love. People do not choose to use a platform or a software on the basis of its functionalities let alone its values, but because how it makes them feel unique, exotic, intellectual, rebel, and belonging to something.
This is, from my point of view, the human condition holding back the recognition and extended use of free software. In free software communities most of the code is built and shared for free, no one ever tells you that you need it to be cool, to improve as a person, to be more productive, to stay in touch with your family and friends: you just grab it, use it, and that’s it. This is how things should be in real life, but what is the point in using a hammer to drive a nail if everybody else is doing it with modeling clay, right? Free software is not attractive and boring in current social standards. As everybody can have it, it is no longer attractive. It’s like wearing clothes from the private label of the store, that would make you ordinary!
When you are able to get a group of people to trust you, feel identified and somehow involved with what you are doing or with your life, they will feel successful if you are. For this reason they are going to use what you use, wear what you wear, pay to see you succeed, and support you even if you are a couple millions dollars ahead of them. They will be happy seeing you live your life as an escape/alternative to theirs. This is what entertainment, big tech and other industries exploits to attract customers.
So what do they do to sell their “product”? They make us believe we need them or we are part of it. They make it attractive, and psychologically captivating. There is the key, throughout design and marketing they sell stuffs we probably do not need.
Then you find things like these:
- A few month ago one of my supervisors saw me using LO Writer and told me: —It is incredible how people make these free software for us, and “nobody” use them—. He then said —send me the report in MS Word—.
- People is getting out of Twitter into Blusky or Nostr, which are far behind Mastodon in all senses. By the way I feel Mastodon is becoming an “I hate Musk” church.
- People following blogs with publications like “7 things to do after installing Snapchat”, and eating two ads per paragraph read, and then subscribing to their Patreon.
What happens in the long run?
In the long run, the Fediverse will still be there, GNU/Linux will still be there, etc., because if one person has a copy of it, then it is possible to maintain or rebuild it. Other platforms will get to the top and then fall, as they are private and depends on profits at all costs. However there is one truth: private companies make a ton of money and free software doesn’t. They sell fake happiness!
—But hey! It isn’t everything about money! Freedom of the people matters the most— R. Stallman says.
—Yeah, right! But you spent 40 years making code for people, and I spent only 10 to make myself millionaire— Says B. Gates. —Now they want to kick you out of your organization, because you are no longer that pretty young rebel—
—You missed the point, I never did it for myself. It was a duty with society— argues RS. —In 100 years I will be remembered as the man behind GNU, and you will be forgotten—
—What does it matters to be forgotten after death, if I lived my life with the most exquisite pleasures mankind can offer?—
—But you supported wars, hunger, poverty, pollution… how can you be so satisfied?—
—Everybody did. Did you ever took a plane, bought a McDo and Coke and trash away the package, got your money on a bank? Did you elected a president who stopped wars?—
—But I did something useful for the society—
—And how did society return that to you?—
—You miss the point again, it is not about any return or profit—
—So you are telling me that you spent your life fighting for others, most of whom didn’t even knew the significance of what you were doing, while you could be enjoying in a beach or with your family. Are you telling me that you dedicated all this time and effort and still most people use my un-free but beauty and easy to use products?— BG continues. —I mean, they even use it knowing and accepting they are the real product. What did you achieved, for real?—
—We set the ground to build something alternative, and when your spyware is done, our work will still be there— proudly says RS.
—I do not see your point, always talking about rights and immortality. I prefer to have a comfortable life, and by the way, things I did were not Evil, I played by the rules. Everybody knew what were they using, and agreed— BG thinks for a moment —Maybe what you did not realized is that I sold people happiness and good vibes, and that make them happy. You, on the other hand, while fighting for the right thing, never had these kind of pleasures— And he concludes —-You never were part of the flock, and worried too much—.
—Good help me to be part of the flock and follow others’ paths. I prefer to be awake and see what is happening around!—
—But, is it worth sacrificing yourself, your time, to build something free for everybody? They do not care— says BG.
—Of course it is important— answers RS.
—I am not sure that’s what I would do, man—.
In the mean time a couple of tourists passed by, and saw those two old man vividly arguing, sitting just in the bank that covered the view of the Silicon Valley museum. Then took a selfie and remove them from the foreground.
Which life would you like to have? That of BG, RS or the tourists?