Criticisms and choices

Paul Boddie paul at
Thu Mar 17 16:57:46 UTC 2022

On Thursday, 17 March 2022 09:54:42 CET Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Hi Paul,
> to me your statements are too general to lead to more insights.
> You draw specific conclusions from observations made on a much larger scale,
> so I cannot see a valid chain of arguments.
> The follow paragraph is an example, but others display the same problem.

I know what you are saying - that I have made claims but provided few specific 
examples or evidence - but having been editing a certain collaborative Web 
site over the last couple of years, and having chased down citations for lots 
of claims and assertions (or, alternatively, correcting what has been written 
and also providing citations), I didn't necessarily feel that I had to 
multiply the amount of time spent writing what was a fairly casual message in 
order to take it to that other level.

> Am Mittwoch 16 März 2022 16:33:05 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> > There's a pervasive attitude in Free Software thanks to the influence of
> > broader commercial and social culture, particularly American-style
> > capitalism,
> A lot of Free Software initiatives are located around the world,
> e.g. KDE is very strong in Europe.
> Here are some numbers on geographic distribution of Free Software
> contributers and it shows that the US is contributing less then a fourth
> (<25%) so it is 75% from the rest of the world.
> (See table 1 of Wachs, et. al 2020 [1])

I was imprecise by saying American-style capitalism. What I actually meant was 
"West Coast capitalism". In other words, a culture that promotes aggressive 
competition and the rapid growth of businesses at the expense of healthy 

> To me it is unlikely and unplausible that "American-style capitalism"
> is the decisive influence of a "pervasive attitude" in the Free Software
> movement and leads to
> > where there apparently has to be a winner and, therefore, losers.

This is not about where the contributors are, but about the dominant cultural 
mindset, rooted in myths about technological progress and the companies 
involved. I have just spent two years in academia again, albeit in a support 
role as opposed to actually doing research. What is increasingly evident (and 
has been for some time) is the prevalence of the West Coast paradigm in 
academia and educational institutions, and in more than one respect.

Firstly, universities are now "incubators" for start-up companies, 
"innovation" and commercial exploitation. Read the pontification of university 
executives and while they may talk about noble things like academic freedom, 
collaboration and the traditional "bread and butter" issues of such 
institutions, what mostly seems to excite them is the potential for 
researchers to monetise their research and make lots of cash. Of course, one 
cannot merely make lots of money without denying others the chance to do the 
same, so naturally the "intellectual property office" has to be involved to 
patent everything.

Parallel to this particular stream of influence is the effect on the tools and 
technologies used by the students, researchers and institutions themselves. It 
is quite evident that where computing technology is concerned, most of the 
people concerned pick and choose the latest and greatest brand-name products 
without any further thought about what such choices entail. Some of that is 
driven by supposed economic necessity: why invest in solutions when you can 
buy them?

So, one encounters a pantheon of different tools and solutions (Google 
products, Microsoft products, Zoom, Slack, Mattermost and so on), some of 
which are actually not supposed to be used due to privacy and security issues, 
but does that stop anyone? In my experience, even institutionally approved 
tools can end up on the list of forbidden products, but that is hardly a 
surprise when people lobby so hard to get their hands on the latest toys.

Even in the more mundane area of getting work done in the field of writing 
software, there is a parade of tools that emerge and become the new best 
thing, obviously at the expense of what existed before. Some of them do 
address use-cases which need addressing, but others are just seeking to 
displace existing solutions in order to chase revenue.

For example, Docker became the fashionable solution for distributing software 
(never mind that practically all containers are based on existing software 
distributions), but then there was Singularity and this was the hot new thing, 
although it has now been forked by the Linux Foundation and renamed Apptainer. 
(Do keep up!) Meanwhile, the Python-related software distribution companies 
who have never willingly collaborated sensibly with operating system 
distributions are trying to carve out maximal market share: today, Anaconda is 
the darling, but ActiveState wants to reclaim the throne.

> For communication software like instant messangers (and chat rooms)
> this can also be explained by the
> and it is not limited to Free Software or software.
> And it is very natural. Your personal choice is under pressure if many of
> your peers or people you want to communicate with are on a certain
> platform. So even without any suggested special attitude there is a
> competition. And competition can be a good thing as it creates choice.
> (It can also be a bad thing, this depends on more factors, I won't expand on
> this here and yet, just explain why your argument is not conclusive.)

Of course the network effect explains why people want to use particular 
technologies, but you don't get a network effect without building a critical 
mass to start with. And the way people usually believe that this might be done 
is to get "mindshare" at the expense of the competition, because all the 
investment that is required in hosting such platforms needs to pay off at some 
point, and that isn't likely to be forthcoming if a company is not 
"dominating" a particular market.

Obviously, if there were broader investment in infrastructure and an 
investment paradigm that did not demand stratospheric rates of return (due to 
most investments being so speculative that they fail), investors would settle 
for less and be more tolerant of the existence of viable competitors. As I 
noted before, it was rather telling that when "open" Facebook competitors 
emerged, Diaspora was anointed as the chosen one, following the familiar 
narrative of one winner and everyone else the loser.

> Hope it is helpful to see why most of your writings do not convince me and
> they are often not specific enough to be able to answer them without a lot
> of time and research.
> I'd profit from shorter contribution that cover more specific details
> or arguments drawn on your knowledge.

I could certainly get into the details on some of these topics, but I don't 
have all day to spend doing so. Maybe it is my fault for raising broad topics 
and writing so much about them in the first place.

I actually think that it is pretty uncontroversial to say that consumerism, 
which definitely intersects with capitalism, American or otherwise, is 
pervasive, influential, and motivates people's behaviour. Indeed, I think that 
unless one is living in a society that is very different to those most readers 
of this list are living in, the burden should be on anyone to claim the 


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