Brain on a Stick

The World Wide Web got its start as an open-source project. When Tim Berners-Lee came up with the protocols that made it easy to share information across networks, he did not charge anyone to use them, and that’s why the web grew faster than kudzu. But these days, most of the tools we use on the web are trying to extract profit from us, one way or another. Sites like Wikipedia, which are popular and open-source and not focused on the profit motive, are more scarce than thriving food co-ops.

Is it possible to live a full digital life and eschew the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple? Maybe not…just as I lack the skills to derive my living straight from the land, I’m not sure how to get by sans my iPod, gMail, and affordable 2-day package delivery. Therefore I vote with my dollars and clicks to support companies that crush unions and tolerate routine suicides in their supply chains.

Therefore I’d like to live more of an open-source life. One way to do this: take old hardware that once ran proprietary software and make them into open-source machines. All it takes is a USB stick.

Last week I downloaded both Ubuntu and Pixel (an operating system designed for the Raspberry Pi) onto thumb drives. A quick search of Google — or better yet, Duck Duck Go — will show you how to use such drives on machines that run either Windows or Mac software. It’s nerdy fun to see the Ubuntu logo flash on the screen of a used MacBook Air.


Once you have an operating system in your pocket (or even on your key ring), you can use it on virtually any computer. Edward Snowden knows this; he endorses Tails, an OS that routes all traffic through a Tor network and keeps your privacy intact. You know it works because he’s not in solitary confinement on a Marine corps base somewhere.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where every web search, text message, e-mail and online financial transaction did not erode your privacy? (In other words, wouldn’t it be nice to live in Europe?) If we want such a world, we’ll have to (re-)create it.







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