Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> GLOBAL: Free Geek has been keeping the needy nerdy for seven f
Frederick Noronha on Sat, 13 Oct 2007 11:44:06 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> GLOBAL: Free Geek has been keeping the needy nerdy for seven full years

Free Geek has been keeping the needy nerdy for seven full years

 GOA, India -- Contribute your work, and get a computer! That's the
option offered by the Portland,Oregon-based Free Geek. They have
been "helping the needy get nerdy since the beginning of the third

In recognition of their work -made possible with GNU/Linux and free
software- this not-for-profit community organisation was jointly
awarded the first APC Chris Nicol FOSS Prize, named after a passionate
campaigner of free and open source software (FOSS) who played a key
role in the APC network.

With ideas such as a thrift store (buy donated recycled parts, as is,
and with no warranty), hardware grants, GNU/Linux certification, and
internet access, the 2000-launched Free Geek has done some interesting
work. The organisation states on its website: "In the four years since
its formation, Free Geek has recycled over 360 tons of electronic
scrap and refurbished over 3,000 computer systems that are now in use
by individuals and organizations in the community".

Interestingly, Free Geek says it does most of this work with
volunteers. At any given time, about 200 are active. Volunteers
disassemble donated equipment, test components, then either recycle it
as electronic scrap or into refurbished systems. Refurbished computers
are all loaded with free and open source software (FOSS), such as
GNU/Linux, Open Office, and the Ubuntu distribution.

But Free Geek does not just aim for efficiency and ecological-sense.
It strives for a democratic model too. Says the group: "We are proud
of being a democratically-run organization, and use consensus in our
meetings. Our policy decisions are made by a group of volunteers and
staff called the council, and those policies are executed by our staff

Journalist and BytesForAll co-founder Frederick Noronha (FN)
interviewed Elizabeth Swager of Free Geek, to find out more about the
project, its challenges and how it can be replicated.

FN: How long has your project been active, and how many staff
or volunteers does it have? Do you see it as a funded or aided
organisation primarily, or a business venture, or both?

Elizabeth Swager (ES): Free Geek has been keeping the needy nerdy
for seven full years. We currently have thirteen collective members.
However, they are paid for working anywhere between 12-35 hours a

I see Free Geek as a self-sustaining non-profit community centre that
aims to give people tools of empowerment.

FN: How effective has this project been in spreading FLOSS use?

ES: It has been very effective at spreading FLOSS use to people who
would not normally have access to propriety software, to non-profits
and our volunteers.

We distribute more than 2,000 computers a year with free and open
source software.

FN: What are the challenges in giving people FLOSS to use when they
have no initial experience with it (training aside)?

ES: Ubuntu is the version of Linux we use, and it has been very
helpful for users who are new to FLOSS. Our main challenges are
getting people connected to the internet and teaching people how to
transition from another operating system (OS) to a [GNU] Linux-based
OS. We have tech support that helps with these issues.

FN: Do users of FLOSS manage to get local support? (Apart from your

ES: Yes. On the third Sunday of every month there is a Linux clinic
that meets in our facilities, to exchange information and hold
educational workshops. FLOSS newbies are also able to access excellent
documentation online.

FN: What are your biggest challenges in keeping the project going?

ES: As laptops become more popular, we have a harder time getting
people to use the large desktops that we rebuild. We also refurbish
laptops, but they are much more difficult and time-consuming. One
reason is that all use different proprietary parts.

Insuring that all recycling vendors are environmentally and socially
sound. That means making sure that e-waste is handled safely, without
the use of prison labour or child labour.

FN: Does recycling make sense in times when hardware-fuelled
obsolescence is taking perfectly working computers to the scrap heap
by the hundreds of millions?

ES: Recycling doesn't really make the most sense, environmentally    .
That is why we prefer re-use                                         .

As much as possible, we refurbish electronic equipment and get it back
in use in our community. However, not everything can be salvaged and
that is when we rely on recycling electronic equipment.

FN: Do you face the problem of speedy planned obsolescence in hardware
making recycling increasingly more difficult?

ES: Actually, obsolescence of hardware makes recycling our only
option. We do, at times, have to endure high costs for recycling the
mass of equipment that is donated to us.

FN: Do you think your venture can be replicated?

ES: Yes, and it has been. If you are interested in starting a Free
Geek, check out our how-to wiki page.

FN: Ideally, FLOSS could survive and thrive if there were local skills
supporting it. Are you'll working on this?

ES: Yes. We do as many educational workshops as we can to build the
skills of our volunteer community.

FN: What do you see as the future challenges to your project?

ES: Same as the first question. There are more and more computers
being manufactured with unique hardware. This makes is very difficult
to switch out parts and refurbish machines.

FN: As the cost of low-end computers declines, do you'll have more
challenges or fewer?

ES: The more waste we get from cheap, disposable and low quality
computers, the greater our challenges of processing the mass.

Frederick Noronha http://fn.goa-india.org Ph 0091-832-2409490
List of Indian e-lists http://wikiwikiweb.de/MailingListsInIndia

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org