Learning to Fly

Recently, I found a text by Andreas K. Förster published on the Free Software Foundation’s “testimonials” page that I’ve enjoyed reading so much that I’d like to share it here. I didn’t start using computers the way he did (if only because I’m too young for that) but the feeling of “learning to fly” I had after having started using GNU/Linux was pretty much the same. (And it’s still going on as I guess it always will!)

P.S.  I think there are better things to read on the Internet than the holy bible, but if you feel like reading it, go ahead doing so by means of free software…

When I started with computers (my first computer was a TI-99/4A), I was used to get my software by typing program-listings from computer-magazines. So I first read the program and if I liked it I typed it into my computer. And while doing this, I learned a lot. And after a while I was able to change them to my needs or wishes. It was so fascinating. I could talk to my computer and my computer understood me. It did, what I wanted it to do. It followed my “commands”. It was so fascinating! That is how computers became my hobby.

But times changed. There were less and less listings in magazines but you could buy software for high prizes. I couldn’t afford it, so I was forced into illegality. But also all the fascination has gone. I couldn’t read the programs anymore, because they were only in binary form, so I could not learn from them either… And after a while even the command-line vanished, being replaced by some “funny” pictures which I couldn’t make to do what I wanted them to do. My computer didn’t follow my commands anymore, I had to follow it’s commands. I was degraded to be an “end-user”. When I am asked “what’s your hobby” and I say “computers”, nobody understands me anyhow. Computers were still called computers, but what did they have in common with what became my hobby???

Let me tell you a little story: There was a little boy, who just learned to read. He was so fascinated about reading that he read the whole “war and peace”. When his parents asked him “What do you want for your birthday present?” he answered “I love reading, so I want to get a good book.” On his birthday the boy looked around, and there it was: a package, which looked like a book. Full of excitement he opened the present. It was a book… a picture book, full of pictures and no text. The boy became angry and threw it into the corner. The parents did not understand what was going on. The boy wanted a book, isn’t it? That’s how I feel when I’m asked about my hobby.

I want to thank anybody who writes free software which I can read. You made a blind man see again.

I want to thank the GNU project <http://www.gnu.org> for they brought back the command-line to me. They made my computer understand me again. They wrote bash and all the shell-utils, text-utils, bin-utils, GCC and whatnot.

But also I want to especially thank the CrossWire Bible Society <http://www.crosswire.org> for “bringing the Gospel to a new generation.”

Copyright (C), A. K. Förster, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
(I hope so; it didn’t become entirely clear from the page I got the text from. Please let me know if I violated any terms of use, I’ll do my best to correct it.)

And if I may add:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals.
Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination.
We learned to talk.

Stephen Hawking, quoted in “Keep Talking” by Pink Floyd.

I can’t help but think that some big software companies seem to find customers who don’t need to / don’t know how to / aren’t allowed to talk a desirable goal.

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