The best way to understand something is to take it apart. Children know this: when faced with a strange object, the first instinct of an inquisitive child is to disassemble it. Taking things apart and putting them together again is essential to learning. Indeed, it is tantamount to curiosity itself.
In the 1980’s, a young programmer named Richard Stallman noticed a worrying trend in software; users were prohibited from taking things apart. In proprietary source code, the code is hidden from the public and users have no understanding of the software they run. Deeply conscious of the impact that this could have on curiosity and learning, Stallman called for a movement of “free software”: open source code, freely distributed, that anyone could copy, edit, and share.
Stallman realized far before his time the deep connection between proprietary software and user exploitation. Today, the software that is hidden from us has morphed into an architecture of surveillance. Users are plundered for data that is gathered to manipulate said users into buying more products.
Social media companies, like Instagram, are built to be addictive. Users are lured in and trapped by tricks that abuse human psychology. Interfaces are designed to pacify the user during the data-extraction process. By abstracting user experience from the reality of code, users are disempowered. They become a tool in a machine they do not understand.
Free software is different. It necessitates empowered usership. By critically engaging in software the gap between users and developers grows smaller. When users control the code base, surveillance tech is challenged and rejected.
Proprietary software is user predation. This is true for all of humanity, but it affects women the most. Women spend more time
on social media and smartphones. They are the primary market for exploitative surveillance and advertising campaigns. All women, and especially young women, are vulnerable to mental health conditions
caused by relentless use of social media.