From the 1st to the 7th of July 2017, a new edition of the World Free Software Meeting was held in Saint-Étienne, France, an event which brought together researchers in technologies, public authorities and companies working on opportunities which arise from the use and development of free software.
During this edition, some presentations focused on articulating Simondon’s thinking and free software, notably Coline Ferrarato’s research on “The mode of existence of free software“. In her intervention, the Parisian proposed to “explain that the software participates in a new form of technicality, one of” scriptural technicality “- exploring the problematic links that such a technicality maintains with the materiality of the computer which supports it. “This new form of technicality”, according to Coline,”allows new forms of collaboration around “DIY” and openness, specific to free software”.
Stéphane Couture, a professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, worked in his presentation “The Meaning of the Code”, citing Simondon, that “the machine is not an absolute unit but rather an association of several elements that the human role is to relate to each other. “Taking as reference his own research of the previous years, Stéphane concluded that many people involved in free software “have a relationship with the code as source that goes beyond the purely technical dimension”, arguing that “the source code is rather apprehended in its expressive dimension, as it is the very place of interaction and communication between members of a community”. His objective was to link the reflections of Gilbert Simondon to a committed conception of free software.
On the same day as Professor Stéphane’s intervention, I gave my own lecture entitled “Digital radio and global autonomous communication“. Arguing that digital radio is not a natural evolution of analogue radio, I resorted to Simondon’s distinction between tool and instrument, insisting on the thinking of technical networks, and linking this concept to what we can today realize beyond a connection to the Internet, building a secure, autonomous and low-cost data communication network. Taking up the famous letter by Simondon to Derrida, I approached techno-aesthetics as a sensible passage from a model of progress from closed objects to open objects, and defined free software as a set of elements in which operates a technicity distinct from the one proposed by the proprietary software. Finally, I tried to emphasize the importance of a continuity between freedom of expression and the means used to achieve it, as a human-machine couple capable not only of guaranteeing a right but of providing a type of pleasure which we could call techno-aesthetic.
The event included interventions by Yann Moulier Boutang and Richard Stallman, who called his lecture a provocation: “Free-Libre Software: what developpers have to know“. But the themes that interested me most were provided by Heather Marsh, about the need for free databases, and Natacha Roussel’s workshop, with her feminist perspective of numerically quantifying body practices from mobile devices.
Established in the hometown of Simondon, the Encounters were amply recorded in video, and promise to make available conferences for online consultation. Saint-Étienne, recognized as a city of design, ends the week more as a world capital of reflection on the digital. Long live free software!