Extend the border of free cyberspace to mobile

After one year spent using my (pretty old) cell phone for more than just sms and audio calls, I understand better some of the new challenges that the free software movement have to face.’  I already wrote about the implications of GPLv3 on mobile handsets, but that post only scratches the surface of the issues.

The free software movement is a social movement whose ultimate goal is to liberate every person in cyberspace, that is every computer user. But the meaning of computer and of cyberspace has expanded logarithmically in the past few years and I fear that the rethoric of the movement has not evolved at the same pace. I am for sure one of those that only recently realized how much the handheld devices extend the cyberspace beyond the usual desktop frames.

The computational capability of these devices is impressive, but those pale compared to the social impact on human behaviour. Have a look at the scenarios described in this video, for example, and think of how much your life changed since you had a cell phone.’  Did you ever try to organize a meeting with many people in a remote place without cell phones or network coverage?’  You’d need lots of preparation beforehand, gather addresses, start ahead of time, get everything printed; still somebody would get lost. Or think how much the micropayments via sms, so popular in Africa, are changing life and social habits.

All the interest and hacks on the new powerful and only slightly-less-closed platforms such as iPhone and G1 demonstrate that there are enough free software developer ready to play with truly open platforms. There is a force waiting to be unleashed to liberate the mobile aspect of cyberspace.’  I’m not sure if and what is holding this force. Maybe it’s the fact that cell phones are not really free software developers friendly (only the Neo Free Runner is, at the moment). Or maybe it’s the lack of a clear call from a moral authority, like the one that Stallman launched in 1984 for the GNU system. Maybe all this and something else.

All I know is that our movement needs to evolve its rethoric, extend its reach beyond the desktop computer and beyond the ‘cloud’, and include the mobile computation into the big picture of freedom for computer users. What can we do to obtain more freedom on mobile platforms?