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Saying No to unjust computing even once is help


A misunderstanding is circulating that the GNU Project demands you run 100% free software, all the time. Anything less (90%?), and we will tell you to get lost—they say. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our ultimate goal is digital freedom for all, a world without nonfree software. Some of us, who have made campaigning for digital freedom our goal, reject all nonfree programs. However, as a practical matter, even a little step towards that goal is good. A walk of a thousand miles consists of lots of steps. Each time you don't install some nonfree program, or decide not to run it that day, that is a step towards your own freedom. Each time you decline to run a nonfree program with others, you show them a wise example of long-term thinking. That is a step towards freedom for the world.

If you're caught in a web of nonfree programs, you're surely looking for a chance to pull a few strands off of your body. Each one pulled off is an advance.

Each time you tell the people in some activity, “I'd rather use Zoom less—please count me out today,” you help the free software movement. “I'd like to do this with you, but with Zoom on the other side of the scale, I've decided to decline.” If you accepted the nonfree software before, you could say this: “I'd like to participate, but the software we are using is not good for us. I've decided I should cut down.” Once in a while, you may convince them to use free software instead. At least they will learn that some people care about freedom enough to decline participation for freedom's sake.

If you say no, on one occasion, to conversing with someone or some group via Skype, you have helped. If you say no, on one occasion, to conversing via WhatsApp, Facebook, or Slack, you have helped. If you say no, on one occasion, to editing something via Google Docs, you have helped. If you say no to registering for one meeting in eventbrite.com or meetup.com, you have helped. If you tell one organization you won't use its “portal” or app, so you will deal with it by phone, that helps. Of course, you help more if you stick to your refusal (with kind firmness, of course) and don't let the others change your mind.

Steps add up. If on another day you decline the nonfree program again, you will have helped again. If you say no a few times a week, that adds up over time. When people see you say no, even once, you may inspire them to follow your example.

To give help consistently, you can make this refusal a firm practice, but refusing occasionally is still help. You will help more if you reject several of the nonfree programs that communities have blindly swallowed. Would you ever want to reject them all? There is no need to decide that now.

So tell someone, “Thanks for inviting me, but Zoom/Skype/WhatsApp/whichever is a freedom-denying program, and almost surely snoops on its users; please count me out. I want a different kind of world, and by declining to use it today I am taking a step towards that world.”

The FSF recommends freedom-respecting methods for the sorts of communication that unjust systems do. If one of them would be usable, you could add, “If we use XYZ for this conversation, or some other libre software, I could participate.”

You can take one step. And once you've done it, sooner or later you can do it again. Eventually you may find you have changed your practices; if you get used to saying no to some nonfree program, you could do it most of the time, maybe even every time. Not only will you have gained an increment of freedom; you will have helped your whole community by spreading awareness of the issue.

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