Free software and freedom Keynote

Freedom in a time of pandemics


Covid-19 isn’t the only pandemic facing humankind in 2020. Others include fascism, capitalism, environmental destruction, and mass surveillance by corporations and governments. As we find ourselves two decades into the century that will define the character of our societies in a digital and networked world, how we respond to these crises will define what it means to be human in an age when our humanity is no longer defined by the boundaries of our physical bodies.

While technology alone will not solve any of the challenges facing us, its central role in shaping the boundaries of our freedoms cannot be emphasised enough.

Technology is a multiplier. How we fund it, design it, and the success criteria we set for it are defined by ideologies and interests. The technology that is built, in turn, amplifies the ideologies and interests of its creators.

Big Tech amplifies Big Business and Big Brother. Big Tech – funded by venture capital and sharing the same success criteria as cancer (exponential growth in a finite context) – exacerbates inequality and centralises power. Big Tech amplifies the interests of a handful of billionaires in a world in which millions die every year of malnutrition and preventable disease. A world in which, according to Oxfam, “2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population.”

The problem isn’t just technology. The problem is fascism, capitalism, and neoliberalism. But if we want a progressive alternative, we cannot expect to construct it by using their tools. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, neoliberalism’s tools will never dismantle neoliberalism’s house.

So what is the alternative to Big Tech?

In this talk, I will argue that it is Small Tech.

Small Technology is technology funded from the commons and owned and controlled by individuals. It works to amplify the interests of individuals, not corporations or governments.

In the digital network age, the difference between Big Tech and Small Tech is the difference between tyranny and freedom.