This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet, in the context that often a free software evangelist will ignore the needs, desires, and abilities of a given potential convert. Examples using Linux will be preferred here due to my familiarity with these arguments about it.
When I talk about Free Software Evangelism(FSE) I mean either the type of message spreading that involves attempting to convince someone to adopt either your software or your use case, or I mean the type of grandstanding that involves some sort of virtue signaling in the attempt to convert someone to a certain software ideology(eg: free software vs. proprietary software).
This type of evangelism usually takes place in IRC chats or forums, but also on microblogging social media and similar platforms. The evangelist’s ‘instincts’ will often be ‘triggered’ by someone making a negative claim about some proprietary piece of software, or seeing someone share their gripe. Instantly, a free software alternative like some distro of Linux or UNIX will be proposed. Sometimes even BSD.
When pressed further, a metric buttload of sources of information will be piled on to the unsuspecting complainer and unless they instantly agree with the evangelist, they’re othered for being a “proprietary pleb” or just “a corporate shill” because they dare defend Microsoft after complaining about Windows.
What some evangelists often ignore is the context in which a complaint is made and how that context can be extremely different from their worldview.
What some of these people miss is that not everyone has the same level of ability as them. What they miss is that not everyone even realizes that there is a difference between proprietary and free software. Even when they do realize there’s a difference, they might not understand what that is.
Convincing someone to use free software is like trying to guide the direction of someone’s moral compass. Obviously, as a free software enthusiast myself, I would think this is pointing their compass in the ‘right’ direction, but I wouldn’t try to impress that upon someone who wasn’t asking for such impression. Convincing someone to use free software when they don’t understand what that even means is just a fool’s errand. They won’t be receptive and their minds aren’t even in that type of place.
Consider even that many might not have the means to change to using free software. Either they’re restricted on time or they’re restricted on ability.
Not everyone has the time to go distro hopping, trying out every distro until you find one that suits you best(it never happens). Not everyone has the time to fix any little problem that will inevitably rear its head. Not even the multi-billion dollar companies get it right, how do you expect the fragmented Linux communities to get everything right out of the box? Not everyone has time to set up an encrypted LVM disk with RAID 10 redundancy and an off-site backup solution. Most people have time for something that “just works” and often proprietary solutions provide that time-saver.
Some people don’t have the time or need to understand these things either. The time it took me to understand how to do many of the things I wanted to do back in 2012 took a long time to learn. I think if I was starting with Linux today, I might not have dived as deep as I did. I don’t have the energy to spend six hours fixing an audio issue I learned how to fix 6 years ago the first time I had it.
Not only this, not everyone has the ability to learn such things! A lot of people, and I hate to say it, would get tripped up by half the things that many learn within the first few months of adopting a Linux distro, for example.
Some FSE’s will neglect to consider the context and abilities with which a complaint was made. Some FSE’s will ignore the needs and desires a potential convert has. If these things are ignored, more often than not, this type of person will come off as a grandiose asshole and they’ll end up turning the other person away from free software rather than towards it.
Disclaimer: I realize that some of the phrasings chosen in this post were inadequately explicit in reflecting my stance on this issue. As such, I’ve modified some phrasings. You can observe the changes I’ve made by comparing the original commit for this post with the one making these changes at https://gitea.bnolet.me/brandon/personal-blog