Greetings FreeDMR Family
I thought some of the things I post on the Telegram groups should be preserved and be a bit more permanent than just a group post, so this is my first blog post to the FreeDMR website.
In this post I wanted to talk about Freedom, Autonomy, learning and control. Many of you know my views and philosophy behind FreeDMR. FreeDMR was born from a desire to do things differently. Jon (G4TSN), Norman (M6NBP) and I wanted to build a network where the community comes first. A system where in the main we have replaced rigid rules with community ownership and collective responsibility. We have worked hard to promote an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome. We value technical experimentation. We are willing to help each other. We wanted to make friends not enemies and to see the potential and possibilities in things; to say yes instead of no. We wanted to build an environment where users are not criticised and ridiculed for asking a simple question. In the main, I feel we have succeeded in this goal. The FreeDMR network has grown organically and spans the globe. I have made friends in all parts of the world and I personally thank you all for that. We value each and every one of you and the contribution you make to make FreeDMR what it is. We have succeeded in making a place that is open and accepting irrespective of age, gender, disability, religion, race, political alignment or indeed anything else that makes us unique. We have not ever claimed to be “professional”, “the best”, “the biggest” or anything like that. We are a bunch of hobbyists building an experimental network for fun. We have achieved that and way more. This is an important point. It should always be fun. We can do boring tedious stuff at work, this is a hobby and you should enjoy it!
So why, you may ask, if we are so accepting do you often hear us encouraging sysops not to hand over root access to other parties or to let people build servers for you. The answer to this is both simple and complex. The short answer is “it’s better for the network this way”. It’s the why that takes more explaining. In the rest of this post, I want to answer that very question.
I often don’t reply to or refuse requests to “login and have a look” or “do X for me”. Some of it’s about free time, but there is more to it.
Firstly, it’s about learning. Amatuer radio is about experimentation. Indeed, the UK licence uses the phrase “for the purpose of self training”. When a prospective sysop comes along and says “but I don’t know linux!”, we don’t mind at all. We will help you. What you do need though is to be willing to learn. Handing over a system to someone else and saying “build it for me” teaches you nothing. There is no “self training”. Posting on the Telegram groups for help and getting help from the community, on the other hand, allows you to learn and grow your knowledge. This is the spirit of FreeDMR and amatuer radio. Therefore, we ask you to be willing to learn. To all of the more experienced sysops on the group, we ask you not to take this gift of discovery and learning away from your fellow hams. As tempting as it may be, even if it seems easier at the time, it’s far better to teach your skills to someone else than to do it for them. Both of you develop and grow so much more this way and we all benefit as a community.
Secondly, it’s about autonomy and control (or lack thereof). The model we have built for FreeDMR works precisely because nobody has an overriding control over the network and the servers comprising it. Each system is autonomous and each sysop is an equal, a peer, with everyone else. This is true for everyone, even me and Norman and Jon. We are all equals. Respect in the community is earned by helping and supporting our users, fellow sysops and the network as a whole. This model only works if this autonomy is maintained. Running servers for people, however well-intentioned, upsets the balance. It disempowers some sysops and hands more power to others. It means that the balance of equality shifts to those in control and away from those who are passive, who are simply sysops on paper. This is not good for the network. I know these things happen because we want to help, because it’s sometimes easier to just “do” than to teach. I know you all have the very best intentions. However, this shift of power within the ordinarily flat structure, over time, can cause very real problems in the dynamics of the group. My vision is for all of us and all of our systems to be autonomous, self-sufficient, for all of us to truly be equals. I ask you all therefore, to put your energies into empowering your fellow hams to do more, to learn more, to understand more. Give them the gift of your knowledge and mentorship. Simply “doing”, whilst well intentioned, is depriving them of that thrill of having built something and achieved something.
However well intentioned, power creeps in slowly. We never want to have a situation where anyone, even well intentioned, has undue influence over the network. This applies to Norman, Jon and I too. One of the most important thing we can do is to safeguard the autonomy of our systems so we all remain a collection of equals.
Experience also tells us, if a sysop doesn’t keep learning, experimenting, achieving things, they are less motivated to continue. Human nature dictates, when we build something, we promote it, we are proud of our work and rightly so. It has value to us because of the effort we have invested. If something is simply handed to us, it has little value and people tend to soon lose interest and move on, leaving servers unused or with no users, until eventually the lights go out. This benefits no-one.
So, I ask you, If you’re more experienced, give people the gift of your knowledge, in public, on the groups so all may share. If you are less experienced, be patient, be willing to learn. Ask questions, get answers, move forward. Don’t ask for people to just “do” as this puts us all in an awkward situation.
Please think about your involvement in the network off the back of this. Is there something you are looking after now that, with a bit of education and mentoring, you could hand over to someone else? If you can do this, you should have a huge sense of achievement. You’ve taught someone a new skill, you’ve helped the network and you’ve earned all of our respect. You’ve probably learnt a whole lot along the way too. Teaching is hard work. This community does not measure your contribution by how many servers you run, but by how you support your fellow hams.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed my first blog post.
73 – Simon G7RZU