You buy “stuff”1 everyday. Some are essential, but many others that you probably don’t need. In any case, imagine two scenarios.
You go to a store to buy, and like the look and feel of it. You pick it up and head out of the store. No payment, no receipt, no credit card swipe. Then one day, when you have used it enough and feel that it was worth it, you pay for it, and you pay what you think it was worth. No price tag, no time limits, no collection calls, just your moral obligation.
You are enticed, cajoled, convinced or fooled into buying it. Pay for it upfront with limited warranty on the product, no guarantee of satisfaction and very few options of getting your money back.
Which one would you chose? Obviously scenario 1, isn’t it?
Not just because it is free until you decide to pay for it, but also because YOU are always in control.
Does it sound too idealistic? Are there even such products and services?
Yes, and many that you are likely using quite regularly too, but may not even be aware of it.
Open source software is modeled exactly on the first scenario. Furthermore, many of these are ad-free. Do you rely on Wikipedia, or use Mozilla Firefox or prefer Linux (more accurately GNU/Linux) or any of the thousands of “free” software out there?
Most people, including myself, agree to this idea of our shared responsibility towards the systems and software that are made available to us for “free”. We all understand that there is cost (monetary, manpower, administration, etc.) and hence it is not free in the true sense. Someone, somewhere, is paying for it. Someone has taken up the burden of our missing contribution, however minuscule it may be.
Yet, when it comes to acting on it, we defer, procrastinate and finally pass on it, expecting and hoping that someone else will sustain it. I was no exception. I would go places, spend on food and drinks which was more expensive that it was worth, but didn’t make the much needed contribution. It is not that the monetary contribution has to be much, and yet we don’t. This is bystander apathy, a very regressive attitude for a society.
Finally in November 2013, I committed myself to make a contribution as little as USD 10 to a few of the softwares that I use regularly. I did not go bankrupt (obviously) and life is better now that I have fulfilled my shared responsibility. Having taken that first step, I am now committed to contributing every year.
If everyone reading this chipped in $3, we would be supported for another year – Mozilla Firefox
If all our past donors simply gave again today, we wouldn’t have to worry about fundraising for the rest of the year – Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia
Such ecosystems can only exist and sustain with voluntary collective contributions. There are many ways to participate but financial contribution is important. The ball is in your court. Participate in any way possible and fulfill your shared responsibility. I promise you, take that first step and make that contribution. It will give you a sense of satisfaction.