FSFTN Camp 2016 Tiruchi

Published by Arun Isaac on

In other languages: தமிழ்

Tags: freesoftware, fsftn, tiruchi

I attended the FSFTN Camp held from September 30 to October 2. This is an account of my experience there.

Last weekend (October 1 & 2), I went to Tiruchi for a camp organized by Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu (FSFTN). Though I have been using free software for a long time now, I have not been as active as I could have been with the local free software community. This camp shattered the misconception that free software is only for programmers and computer hackers. It showed that even normal people can participate in the free software movement and that no special genius was required.

Discussion on privacy

Discussion on privacy at FSFTN Camp 2016, Tiruchi

Figure 1: Discussion on privacy at FSFTN Camp 2016, Tiruchi

On the last day of the camp, we had an activity based discussion on privacy. In the current social climate, privacy is not an easily understood concept. There is a common myth that you need privacy only if you have done something wrong. Yet, we all have an instinctive understanding of privacy. We tried out to bring out this instinct for privacy in the following two ways.

  • We said that we were willing to give the participants a house free of cost without any rent whatsoever. 1 Quite obviously, many were interested in this. Then, we added that for their own security, cameras will be installed in all rooms including the bathrooms. Immediately, everyone lost interest in the house.
  • We called two of the participants to the stage, got them to exchange their phones and read each other's WhatsApp messages. We didn't really want to intrude into their private lives, of course. So, we had already set up the two participants we were going to call and given them fake messages to read. Once the two actors had finished reading the messages, we invited other participants to come on stage and similarly read their messages. No one volunteered.

The impact of these activities on the audience was greater than I had anticipated. Using this feeling of violation and indignation, we explained the concept of privacy on the Internet, particularly on WhatsApp and Facebook, which almost everybody uses.

My understanding and awareness of privacy and the problems thereof developed slowly over the course of many years. To explain these ideas to someone who has never thought about these things is no easy task. Yet, if this attempt at an explanation was even a little successful, it was because of the deliberate planning and discussion that we went through on the night before the talk. For example, the fake WhatsApp messages that we got the two participants to read were written by Vignesh and others who understood the local culture well. If I myself had written those messages, it would not have been natural and it is doubtful whether it would have had the same impact.

Community mesh networks, OpenStreetMap, gender discrimination and others

I got the chance to meet people whom I had known primarily online. I spoke with Ganesh and Suriyadeepan about their work with community mesh networks at Puducherry. From the OpenStreetMap discussion, I got a few more ideas about how the free/libre data from OpenStreetMap can be used in ways going beyond the simple routing service provided by a provider like Google Maps. We also discussed the issue of gender discrimination and the draconian rules imposed on girl students in the local colleges and their hostels. We also had a very relaxed workshop on Python and Blender. Instead of sticking to a rigid syllabus, the workshops were very flexible keeping pace with the progress of the participants.

Camaraderie and sense of community

More than anything about software or computers, this camp reminded me of the Christian camps that I was made to attend during my childhood. Even though I don't believe in God, and am disinterested in religious activites, I must say that they have a certain camaraderie and sense of community that we in the more rational movements neglect and dismiss as being unimportant. Instead of the subtle and not so subtle ego clashes I have seen in other hacker gatherings, this camp had a very humanistic approach to it. There was a sense of solidarity and fraternity among the camp organizers that I have not seen elsewhere.

And, finally, before signing off, I must thank Ravi for picking me up from the Tiruchi bus stand on Saturday morning and for the hospitality at his home. The food at the camp was great – much better than I had expected. The accommodation was well arranged for. Also, many thanks to Ramasheshan and everybody else who worked hard to make this camp a reality. I am most eager to be a part of more such camps and other free software activism.

Image Credits

Discussion on privacy at FSFTN Camp 2016, Tiruchi -- by Anand I, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

Footnotes:

1
This is an argumentative device proposed by Ramasheshan on his blog at http://blog.voidspace.xyz/upar-wala-shab-dek-raha-hai.html