My previous post,"Why I Regret Buying an iPhone," in which I wrote about the ramifications of Apple's almost psychotic obsession with secrecy, begs an uncomfortable question. Have I stopped using my iPhone? The answer is no.
It would be difficult to refute the argument that if I felt so strongly about the negative consequences of Apple's culture of ultra-secrecy that I regret having purchased an iPhone, then as a matter of principle I should stop using it. I don't have a particularly good answer for someone who might say it's hypocritical to bash Apple in a blog post, and then use the iPhone I regret buying to keep track of how many Diggs the post received.
The simple fact is I'm unwilling to take the financial hit that switching phones and service plans would cause, and the inconvenience it would entail isn't all that appealing, either. Am I wrong to be unwilling to make those sacrifices as a matter of principle? As I ponder that question, I can't help but be reminded of the day about a year and a half ago that I met Richard Stallman.
Stallman is the somewhat eccentric founder of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, and is widely considered to be the father of the free software movement. He sees the use of proprietary software of any kind as not just unethical, but downright evil.
When I met Stallman in his MIT office in Cambridge, I couldn't help but be amused by the computer this technology legend was using. It looked like it came straight from Fisher Price. I wrote this about the encounter:
On the table in a small room outside his office was a laptop that could easily be mistaken for a toy. I recognized it as the product of One Laptop Per Child, the Nicholas Negroponte project to provide very-low-cost computers to schoolchildren.
"I decided to switch to one of these last November because it has a free BIOS program, and no other laptop in the world that I knew of was available without a proprietary BIOS program," Stallman said. "It took several months to arrange for us to get a machine, and then for me to switch to it. As I was switching, in April, the head of that project announced his betrayal of our community."
That "betrayal" was Negroponte's decision to run Windows on OLPC laptops.
"The machine's supposed to lead millions of children to freedom," Stallman said. "But instead I fear it will lead millions of children under the dominion of Microsoft."
When I suggested that adopting Windows was likely to make the OLPC machines more pervasive, Stallman bristled.
"It's completely misguided to try to make something a big success if it's doing a bad thing," he said. "Proprietary software subjugates the user. It's an injustice. And the idea that it's good to get people using computers regardless of everything else is shallow and misguided. It's better not to use computers than to use proprietary software."
Just so you know, I'm not a fan of Stallman. I think his views are way over the top, and I have no patience for his demeanor, which I found arrogant, rude and thin-skinned. But you have to appreciate the fact that he's not just talk. He sacrifices a lot to be true to his principles.
Stallman gave Twitter a shot last May, but only wrote four posts. His first post said it all:
A lab assistant and I wrote a script so I could use twitter without a browser.
Browsers, you see, are propriety. That's hard core.
It's also admirable, even if it is a little flaky. I guess we all have to pick our own battles, though. Hmmmm 82 Diggs