Digital Tipping Point – A Q&A with Christian Einfeldt

A face behind the Digital Tipping Point and proof that you don't need to be a coder to be a valued contributor to the FOSS community.

With all the great things happening in the FOSS world its very easy to get overwhelmed.  I could run Openbytes by concentrating on one or two subjects, but since I try to make it appeal to a wide audience of interests I think this would be detrimental to message of free choice I am trying to put out.  The drawback of looking at many area’s is that excellent and worthy projects can get missed out.  Now Im writing about one such project.

Digital Tipping Point is the brainchild of Christian Einfeldt who has created a site & project where the intention is to make documentaries on the subject of FOSS with users encouraged to use to make their own products by editing the material (or volunteering their skills to DTP)

The site says:

The Digital Tipping Point is a documentary film that will explore how the culture of sharing is spilling from the world of Free Open Source Software into the broader global culture. Our film is being put together the same way the Free Open Source Software is built, right now, right here, in real time in front of your eyes. The segments rolling in the box to your left are raw video segments that are streaming from the Internet Archive’s Digital Tipping Point Video Collection.

and goes on to say:

The DTP crew invites you to take their video and rip, mix and burn it however you like, for whatever purpose you like. You can even use the footage for your own commercial film, as long as you release your final product under a Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike license………….Of course, The DTP crew asks you to consider joining their film effort, and contribute your edits, transcriptions, translations, animations, and music to the main DTP film effort, but please feel free to make your own video as well….

I was fortunate enough to be able to contact Mr Einfeldt and engage him in a Q&A which I present to you below, before I do though I would like to sincerely thank him for the time and effort he put into speaking with me, a thoroughly nice chap!

When did you first get introduced to the Open Source and free software scene?

I’m an attorney.  I work in a 23-story building in San Francisco’s financial district.  One day in 2000,I met a sys admin for another law firm in my building.  I told him that I was worried about the proliferation of computer viruses, and asked if he had any recommendations for anit-virus software.  He said, “Yes, use Linux.”

Over the next few months, he and I would meet in the hallway and chat about Linux.  He graciously built a Linux computer for me out of parts that I had purchased on the Internet.  I gradually moved my law practice to Linux, and I have not paid for software since 2001.  I spend all day every day on GNU-Linux, and I am really happy with it.

What inspired you to start this project?

I was so impressed by the generosity of the guy who built my first computer for me, and so impressed by the generosity of the developers who write Free Open Source Software (FOSS) that I decided that I had to give back somehow.  Since I can’t write code (I tried and it wasn’t pretty, believe me), I thought that the best way for me to give back would be to bring attention to the incredible opportunities that FOSS offers for new users who otherwise might not know about it.

Also, I felt that there was a lot of drama in the act of giving away intellectual property, which some people call imaginary property.  I do believe that intellectual property has significant value.   I believe that the consequences of giving away FOSS has significant implications for our culture, and I wanted to bring that story to a broad audience.

The goal of the Digital Tipping Point is to create a forkable library of interesting interview footage so that hackers can tweak the footage to create interesting video shorts or movies to convey whatever message they want.  In other words, if we can make good software using forkable software code that is distributed over the Internet, why can’t we make movies and video that way?  The Digital Tipping Point is an attempt to do just that.

During your years of being involved with FOSS, what would be the biggest “wow” moment when you knew FOSS was the future?

That’s a great question.  My wow moment came when I read “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christenesen.  Christensen outlines a viable plan for how ostensibly “underperforming” technologies like FOSS can knock the dominant technologies off of their thrones.  Human history is moved by discoverable mechanisms.  Clayton Christensen is a business theorist who helped us understand the mechanism underlying some of the biggest changes in business over the past 50 years.  Reading his book helped me understand how it might be possible for Linux to supplant Microsoft Windows.  It was a huge wow moment.

But rather than dwell on the nitty gritty business theory recited by Christensen, let me say that he discovered the mechanisms that underlie social trends like the craze of transitor radios in the early 1960s.  The move to FOSS is nothing less than another huge cultural shift as was the use of transistor radios by the kids of the 1960s.

Back in the 1960s, the youth rebellion was heavily integrated with and driven by the music of the time.  Kids wanted to listen to their music away from the control of their parents.  The key word here is control.  Free Open Source Software offers the ability to shift control from the center (big business and government) to the fringes of society, where creativity always starts.  Sure, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones eventually became co-opted, but at the beginning, they created music that caused people to question existing norms.

Today, the Internet has magnified that creativity by a thousand.  People on the fringes of the Internet are creating exciting new communities, businesses and services such as Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, the Google Nexus One phone, and many other revolutionary services which change how we relate to one another, and how leadership is created and expressed.  Governments have changed as a result of changes in how we communicate, most notably including the election of Barack Obama, who was elected due, in large part, to the fundraising and social outreach that the Internet has afforded.  And, equally important, we have been able to legally bring well-functioning Linux computers to three San Francisco Bay Area schools because FOSS is legal to copy.

While it’s true that many of the efforts of Free Open Source Software advocates have been channeled into the commercial activities such as Pandora, Twitter, Facebook and the Google Nexus One phone, there is a great deal of room for grassroots communities to grow as a result of Free Open Source Software, such as the use of Linux in cash strapped schools like those we support.

The Digital Tipping Point will include lots of interviews with educators at poor schools in San Francisco.  In a sense, no social change has positive impact unless it makes material improvement in the lives of the people who live at the bottom of the economy.  Great disparities in wealth are both the cause and the effect of great misery.  We all suffer when any members of our society suffer from illiteracy.

The Digital Tipping Point will look at how Free Open Source Software facilitates small but meaningful steps toward familiarizing students in poor urban settings with the power of the Internet.  Free Open Source Software will not itself bridge the digital divide, but it will provide educators with at least some of the tools that they need to bring the Internet to students in the face of deeply eroding budgets on the national, state and local levels.  FOSS will also facilitate the distribution of the Internet to deeply poor areas outside the United States.

And in most cases, the improvement that FOSS brings will be DIY solutions.  FOSS is just a tool set, not a government program.  So if people are going to improve their lives with FOSS, they are going to have to learn to use those tools.  This process of learning is, in itself, a process of personal growth.  People will come to understand electricity, software programming, computer science, and business methods by studying these fields.  That learning will create greater self-reliance and greater regional and local autonomy, while helping people build their local economies.

If you were to champion only one distro, what would it be?

I’m really glad that you asked that question.  The answer is that no one distro will work for everyone.

In order for GNU-Linux to survive and prosper on the desktop, we are going to need to set aside divisions.  Any broad democratic social movement like the Free Open Souce Software movement is bound to be a collection of people who sometimes disagree sharply.  We have enough debate and disagreement in the movement(s) that comprise the Free Open Source Software movement.  I wouldn’t want to add to disagreements by advancing one distro over another.

Sure, different distros are better at different things.  I have recommended different distros to different people for different reasons.  It depends on your end user’s requirements and their hardware’s capabilities.

I do have my own personal preferences regarding distros, and I do discuss those things with people on a one-to-one basis.  But the choice of a distro utimately is like asking someone what kind of fashion they prefer.  Distro choice is such a personal choice that it almost has no meaning unless you know the person and you understand the individual motivations behind that choice.

I will say this:  one of the things that gets me excited about GNU-Linux is the option for mass customization.  Disruptive technologies like GNU-Linux succeed because they allow for mass customization.  Lots of people can get exactly what they want in a distro without a huge amount of added inconvenience for the provider.  The Apple iPhone has succeeded because there is a huge ecosystem for mass customization of the iPhone.  You can get the external covers that you want and you can get the apps that you want.  Linux is going to succeed for the same reason.

Having said all of that, I personally prefer Ubuntu (GNOME) with lots of KDE apps like Krita and Konqueror.  I’m not saying that Ubuntu is better than any other distro for anyone else, just that it works for me.  I am a relatively simple end user.  I know about 20 CLI commands and I can use VIM a little bit.  I need lots of support from gurus.  Most of the gurus I know can and will support me on Ubuntu.

Also, I work with lots of beginning users who need wide-spread support for using their computers.  Canonical and the Ubuntu community have made support for thes users a top priority, which makes me feel comfortable in moving these new users to Ubuntu, because I know that the support will be there for them.

I also like the fact that Canonical has made its CEO a woman, Jane Silber. Things like that add up in the long run.  The lack of women in FOSS circles is one of the huge barriers to the spread of GNU-Linux.  Mark Shuttleworth alienated a lot of women with some of his comments in the latter half of 2009, and while I think that Jane’s gender was not the primary reason that Mark Shuttleworth elevated her to the position of CEO, I do think that Mark is not stupid and he sees that he made a mistake with his coments and his appointment of Jane is one small way of acknowledging his mistake.  He is sending a message.  He is putting a women in charge of the whole company that he has worked so hard to create.

But there are lots of other distributions that are easy for simple end users to use, such as Fedora, Puppy, openSUSE and Linux Mint to name just few.

What other FOSS projects are you interested in/champion?

The Digital Tipping Point is a story about GNU-Linux in schools.  I have been part of a closely-knit group of FOSS advocates who have placed Linux computers in four San Francisco Bay Area Schools.  We also maintain those machines.

Supporting organizations like schools with FOSS helps overcome some of the inertia some people feel at starting with a new computer technology.  It’s really important to understand how offensive computers are to many people.  Many people know that they need to use computers, but even the best GUI is still alienating to some people.

We need to do everything we can to make GNU-Linux computers easier to use.  A key component of that process is teaching Linux to one or two people in a close organization like a school or a business.  Human beings are a social species.  We will follow leaders.  I have chosen to get involved with schools because if you can convince just one person, the principal, that Linux computers are good for his  or her school, then the teachers and students will follow that person’s lead.  I call this the pyramid effect.

There are lots of successful strategies for spreading GNU-Linux.  OLPC is one.  LUGs are another.  Marketing to the desktop enterprise like Novell is doing with SLED is another.  Marketing to the server space like Red Hat is doing is another.  Marketing to the mobile handset like Google and Nokia and Motorola are doing is another.  But using the pyramid effect is a great way for Linux fans like me to help new users discover how much fun it is to use GNU-Linux computers.

One of the slogans for the Digital Tipping Point is “Set One School Free.”  We are hoping that the DTP will be an inspiration to Linux gurus to reach out to just one school in their locality and help introduce Linux into that school.  GUI use is language use.  Kids excel at language. Their brains are hardwired to learn language.  If we can familiarize today’s children in using Linux, we will set the stage for widespread adoption later.

Have you any other projects at the moment?

There is an effort that some of us have started for the purpose of bringing GNU-Linux to low income benefits groups.  We have made contact with one of the largest charities in San Francisco.  This is an organization that feeds thousands of people every month.  They also have a jobs program.  In connection with that jobs program, they have a computer lab.  We are in the process of rolling out GNU-Linux in that context because we feel that Linux computers could do so much for people who are trying to lift themselves up off of the street.

Unfortunately, our effort at this charity has stalled for lack of a committed leader.  We do need someone in the San Francisco Bay Area to step up and say, “Hey, I am excited about this project, I am willing to commit to sheparding this project through the first 3 years or so.”

I think we can all agree its an excellent project and if theres anyone in the San Francisco Bay area, there’s something you can help with!  Of course Mr Einfeldt and his work is tireless, he has written about and been interviewed regarding his work before and you can find that here and be sure to see how he had Microsoft inadvertently helping installing FOSS software!

Looking at the work Mr Einfedlt has done and how he came to be involved with FOSS shows two things.  Firstly (and most importantly) you don’t have to be a coder to make a contribution to the world of free software and secondly that yet another person after being introduced to FOSS has gone on to champion the free software ethos which is being adopted by many today.   With Mr Einfeldt and his Digital Tipping Project I am sure in the future we will see his name more.  Why not consider giving your support to the project?

A truly decent man and someone who deserves your support.

Goblin –


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