Software is Politics

We are programming the digital age—not of democracy, but of whatever political structure our current situation emerges into. What we are in now can’t be called a democracy. Large entities hold out-size power to swing elections based on benefits to them (advertising units sold against fake news on Facebook, for example). That’s not democracy; it’s something else.

It’s not just a crisis of democracy, but a crisis of code. Our systems of governance are run by software written mostly by white men, programmed largely for the benefit of large corporations who sell advertising. We are inheriting the world that results from this moral hazard.

Code is poetry. Poetry is political. Programming is a political act.

We need a rebellion—a software rebellion—to write code for the future we want to see. Is that future diverse, democratic, and decentralized? Is it fair? Is it based on equity and inclusion? Does it punish bad behaviour and reward those who treat others with respect even in their differences? These values (or not) are embedded in code, in the software that runs the apps that we use for hours every day.

It’s a political act to write software that’s against the grain of surveillance capitalism. Broadcast TV piped culture into our rooms by faceless corporations. Today it’s piped directly into our eyes via software—software that faceless corporations are writing and we are choosing.


There is a very big, very important, politically crucial “and“: we, anyone, can write new software if we have the skills and tools. And we are free to install whatever software we choose on our devices. Software remains free—free as in freedom—to create, compile, download and run. So if we don’t like the future our software is writing for us, we need to write and use new software.

Here are some top-of-mind examples of alternative visions of the digital future: slightly kinder, slightly more human, written into code:

MastodonTwitter without Twitter
PixelFedHost your own Instagram
PeerTubeFederated videos, without the ads
Standard NotesPrivate notes only you can read
LibrehostCommunity-based resilient hosting
Pinebook & PinephoneOpen-source laptop & mobile phone
Elementary OSPrivacy-centric, easy-to-use OS

… along with vast swaths of software that make up the FLOSS (free/libre open source software) world.

If you can’t write code, you can still choose. You can make a political statement in the software you use, the platforms you support, the people you interact with and the voices you support in your digital life. As Twitter / Trump and Facebook / Fake News have made evident, everything is politics. People sometimes say “vote with your dollar” but that gives out-size votes to those with more dollars. In a world where software is free, vote with your attention. Put your digital care and energy towards systems and people who lead by example towards a world that’s a little bit more like the one you want to see.


Callie Shell documents Obama

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McCain’s Concession Speech

At the end of such massive contest, both men had eloquent words to say – one of McCain’s best outings.

What was striking to me during this broadcast was the contrast between McCain’s crowd of supporters, and those gathered at Grant Park respectfully watching his last address.


Obama’s Victory Speech

From the BBC