A Cup of Ubuntu – How to Enjoy Challenges

Last weekend we had a wonderful cup of tea in a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver with a very friendly group of revolutionaries. Perhaps it seems like an unlikely group to be considered revolutionaries, but the local Ubuntu group in Vancouver is just that. Ubuntu is something I have mentioned before a few times, but for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about it is an open-source operating system for your computer. I have been using it since 2008 on my mother’s not-so-old laptop (Microsoft) that she was going to throw away because it kept crashing. Installing Ubuntu on the computer eliminated all those problems and the computer has been running smoothly ever since.

Over the last couple years Ubuntu has gotten more and more user friendly for folks like me. Currently I use all kinds of free software, such as digikam for sorting and uploading my photos to flickr and facebook, cinelerra for editing video (well I only did that once), gwibber for managing my social networking (Ubuntu Vancouver has just put out a comprehensive manual for that which is very helpful), evolution for my email (I actually plan to switch to Thunderbird as soon as I get a bit more organized), openoffice for writing and many other programs. These are all free of charge, but you are expected to interact by giving your feedback, especially if you have a problem so that the bugs can be worked out.

These days I always hear people raving on about how fantastic Apple is which I find rather disturbing. I read an article last year about iphone employees in Taiwan committing suicide. There are plenty of problems with Macintosh that make it an unsustainable company. It is also rather elitist, and people seem to feel that it makes them some kind of a cooler person to have a i-toy of come sort (OK there are some sour grapes here, my sister just got an ipad for Christmas and they look soooo cool). My partner uses Mac all the time, and often has problems with them. An interesting point that Randall the Ubuntu Vancouver Buzz generator mentioned was the comparison of a drug pusher who gives someone something that gets them hooked and coming back for more. In many ways this is what is happening with both Microsoft and Macintosh, they get us hooked and we have to keep coming back to their hardware or software to keep our systems going. With Ubuntu and the open-source movement we are not only being given the software, but we are also given the means to create and interact with the software.

If you believe that software systems should be predatory, then stick with Microsoft [or Machintosh]

Now, this takes effort on the part of the user in order to understand and get used to the idea of interacting. Over our tea we discussed how people can see these bugs/issues or the whole learning curve in general, as an enjoyable challenge or a time-wasting inconvenience. I find this hard myself. Unfortunately the way we have been taught to see difficulties is that they are downright despicable. This attitude is embedded in our convenience culture and even in our language itself. It is hard to push yourself to go through these learning curves, and as we get older we often get into more and more ruts that we just can’t be bothered to change or even examine.

Generally it takes an illness, financial difficulty, accident, loss of some sort to force us to actively seek out new ways of being. Sometimes, if we are lucky, all it takes is getting involved with the right community and being around a bunch of people who are excited about learning and happy to help newcomers. This is exactly what this group in Vancouver is about and one of the many reasons that I like it. As we are all starting to realise, searching out new challenges is very good for our health, keeps our brains limber and helps prevent us from falling for the simple slogans of our mass media. They keeps us thinking for ourselves.

Small things that encourage us to do this create a true bottom up reality. As people realise that they can interact with their computers on this basic level, we begin to realise that we can create other social systems that operate in less fascist and elitist ways. This is what I am constantly trying to point out about the Ubuntu operating system, it helps us to start thinking in a more give-and-take way which in turn bleeds into other areas of our life. The added bonus of a dedicated community, makes the whole process something to look forward to instead of dread.

Originally, I wanted to start using Ubuntu for a fair amount of time before I actually took the plunge. The thing that ultimately forced me to do so was that we got a free computer with 3 years of an internet contract when we moved to Vancouver. The computer used Vista which I hadn’t used before so I was going to have to relearn word processing etc. I found the whole thing pretty annoying. I sure didn’t want to have to rely on Microsoft and since I had to learn something new anyway, I decided it may as well be Ubuntu. Even with this decision and knowing why I had made the choice you could still see me crying with frustration, pulling out my hair and thumping grumpily about the apartment on various occasions. (This hasn’t happened in over a year now, don’t let that scare you off) Believe me, I have to continuously struggle with new learning curves myself, but often-times a short intense period of agony actually saves you a lot of long-term low-level stress which is just as harmful–if not more so–for your health.

In our modern age we all have grown accustomed to the quick fix and easy answers. Our whole society is set up like this so we can’t get too down on ourselves if this is how we are. We think if we spend the money we can just get the expert to come and fix it. We even do this with our own emotions–by popping a pill or paying some psychologist to tell us how to feel. Hopefully, we will all start to understand this and begin to encourage each other to not take the quick fix, but to dig deeper, to put up with the pain and make the sacrifice. This sacrifice of time, agony or whatever else is something our consumer culture has made into a dirty thing that no one in their right mind would willingly do.

Anyway I didn’t really mean to get into all that, but it is interesting to ponder these things and how we are being controlled and having our strings pulled by unseen forces that are not helping us at all. Perhaps it is like cleaning your house, if you do it every day it becomes a soothing ritual, if you put it off and only do it once every six months it becomes a terrible hated agony. Perhaps I should stop here, I am not sure if that is a very good analogy.

Randall also mentioned Douglas Rushkoff and his new book Program or be Programmed and that is the real point I am trying to get to — I should just let him speak for himself:

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