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The Challenge of Change

by peterb Contributions Published on Jun 27, 2009 10:38 AM
We're happy to welcome Max Shinn, joining us as part of our newly launched internship program. More information about the program is at
by Max Shinn
FSF Campaigns Intern

I am very excited to announce that I will be interning with the Free Software Foundation this summer. Since I am going into my junior year of high school, the FSF has assigned me a project that is long overdue: figuring out a way to get young people involved in free software.

Had it not been for good luck, I would have never discovered the world of free software in the first place. I found the “Linux Operating System” in 7th grade. I installed Debian (Ubuntu didn't have a “newbie-friendly” reputation yet) on an old computer and played around. I was amazed that such a great free-of-cost operating system had been built; however, I was much more amazed that nobody knew anything about it. I wanted to know why.

Fortunately for me, in 8th grade, my history teacher let me research the history of “Linux” for a major, several month long, research project. I was completely amazed by what I learned. I learned that the GNU Project is the basis for what is really the GNU/Linux operating system. I learned that "open source" is different than "free software." I learned that one could experience freedom in computing through software choice. I learned that proprietary software companies use FUD to keep free software from seeing the light of day in many situations. I learned that Linus Torvalds isn't the sole creator of an entire operating system. Most importantly, though, I learned that this was something I wanted to be a part of. By the end of the school year, my computer was equipped with the newly released Debian 4.0.

Had I not completed this in-depth research project, though, I would have never discovered the benefits of free software. People take what they are given unless inspired or compelled to do otherwise. I had that compulsion: curiosity, and a big chunk of time to satisfy that curiosity. Most people, especially students, don't have the luxuries of time and curiosity that I had. Without someone or something inspiring them to redefine their digital ethics, today's youth will remain loyal to the corporations that punish them for doing so.

Coincidentally, though, most would agree that young people are the single most important link in the free software movement. The next generation carries upon its shoulders not only the future of free software, but also the future of the world. The stereotypical high school graduation speeches about changing the world have serious real-life relevance. With nothing more than new ideas and values, the next generation collectively can very easily change the course of history. History has shown that one nice thing about young people is their general openness to new or nontraditional ideas. It is ironic to mention that in this context, though, because when it was first introduced, proprietary software was very unorthodox. The young generation embraced the concept of limiting access to knowledge as a natural law. Now, it seems to have become natural law.

The line has to be drawn somewhere. Microsoft's genius business strategy of targeting the young generation has seen unbelievable success. The challenge for the free software community is to accomplish what Microsoft and other proprietary software companies accomplished through the use of morals instead of money.

We have to start somewhere. I am among those who like to have an extremely detailed plan in place before starting anything, so I will hopefully have a detailed plan in place before diving into physical work. My final plan will center around three main objectives. These are the “Three C's,” a process that will enable young people to become active members of the free software community.

    1. Come – Young people with all experience levels will be invited
       into the free software community. They will learn about free
       software, GNU, and the pieces of history essential to
       understanding the free software movement.

    2. Connect – These young people will join a micro-community
       environment that promotes the use of free software and GNU/Linux,
       and helps bridge the gap for these new members of the worldwide
       free software community. When making decisions, most people rank
       social considerations highly. A comforting environment of
       similarly minded individuals will make the journey into a new
       philosophy on software seem less daunting.

    3. Contribute – Young people have a massive amount of power. They
       will have an easier time becoming contributors for free software
       projects through this micro-community than they would on their
       own. This micro-community will provide outlets to make it easy to
       contribute to free software. Advocacy will take a high priority,
       because it is one of, if not the most important type contribution.
       They will learn that their talents can be used to foster free

I have a huge journey ahead of me this summer. I hope that, through this project, I may give direction to those young people interested in free software. I will be sure to post as frequently as is practical to keep anyone interested informed. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to email me at

Happy Hacking!
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