Free The World

A little while ago I followed a link to a video of a Kathy Sierra talk (always good value). But one of the ideas therein that particularly intrigued me, particularly in the context of starting up a company, was the notion of “making the t-shirt first”. You can look at it as just compressing the “elevator spiel” into an even pithier format which is useful enough, but for me at least, t-shirt slogans also make the concept of selling/communicating your idea way more fun. And, having an idea of my own that I’m trying to nourish, here’s my slogan, albeit on business cards, not a shirt.

Free the world card

So what’s “Free the world” mean, to me?

Free Software

I’m a software geek. The idea that you can take tools and make them do exactly what you want, when you want, in the way you want, without having to do it yourself, is just amazingly cool. Want to read a book? Software can supply you with hundreds, no monks or bards needed. Want to listen to some music? Software can give you thousands of tunes, no cover band required. Want to design a skyscraper or a bridge or a jet, but aren’t sure what shapes and materials will fall to bits? Software can spare you the effort of physically putting together thousands of prototypes and running them all through complicated test rigs and risking people’s lives getting your answers. There are plenty of limitations about what you can do with actual stuff, but for software, you can literally do almost everything you can think of.

But if your software’s not free — and I obviously mean that in the GNU/open source sense, not “for no cost” — you lose the ability to just go ahead and do whatever you want. Maybe you can’t do it at all, maybe you can’t completely automate it, maybe you can’t make a variation you’d like, maybe you just can’t do it in the way you’re most comfortable. The mere fact that software’s free doesn’t mean you suddenly can do all of that, but it does mean that if you’re able to, you’re allowed to.

And that, to me, is the way things should be.

Free Trade

Another way of saying “software geek” is to say “software specialist”. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning about various aspects of software, and gaining skills and experience in understanding it, creating it, and maintaining it. And there’s no way I could have done that if other people hadn’t spent equal amounts of time and energy becoming specialists in other fields too — there’s no point being a software expert if no one builds hardware to run your software, or if no one does anything practical with your software. And all that only works if all those specialists are allowed to trade with each other, so my software skills can deal with a dozen people’s software problems, in return for their various skills helping me out in return. There’s a whole bunch of stuff you can build on top of that — finance, micro- and macro-economics, currencies, credit, insurance, loans, incorporation, share markets, bankruptcy protection, derivatives, whatever — but ultimately all it comes down to is the ability to go up to someone who has something you want, and find some way to make their life sufficiently better that they’ll swap you for it.

And fundamentally there are two reasons why that’s a good system: first, it’s fair: if you want people to help you out, you help them out; and second, it works: economic freedom and quality of life go hand in hand in this world, with plenty of failed attempts to find counter examples littering history. But it’s not like we’re not still making more failed attempts, whether in the guise of social democracy, green revolutions, capitalist bailouts, nanny states, political correctness, child safety, and whatever else. There’s lots of good reasons behind all those things, but stopping people from doing favours for each other isn’t the right way to go about it.

There should be more people helping each other out in the world, and benefiting from their own generosity,  and fewer people getting in the way of that.

Freedom of Choice

But you know, not everyone thinks the same: there’s plenty of people out there who don’t give a damn about free software, or free trade. Because they think other things are more important, because they think other approaches make people better off, whatever. And, in spite of the fact that I’m (clearly) right and they’re (obviously) wrong, that’s all fine. Because you can’t be free unless you’re free to make mistakes, free to be wrong. Software’s not free if you can’t add bugs as well as remove them. Trade’s not free if you’re not allowed to buy things that end up making you unhappy. So while I’m all for the above, I’m also all for other people having different ideas, and opposing ones. More power to them — and hey, the greater the opposition, the greater the eventual triumph, right?

So yeah, that’s my mini-manifesto, and the completely non-specific overview of what I’m focusing on for now.

FTW card

Oh, and I don’t half mind the acronym to which “Free The World” contracts, either.

(Two other random notes: yes, that is a creative commons copyright statement for the picture on the front — I grabbed a photo from flickr, that turned out to be by Corey Leopold; and properly credited reuse of some free imagery seemed a perfect fit for the sentiment I was going for. The cards were printed by, whom I’ve found to be nothing but awesome. Mad props)

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