The Universe as Shareware
It felt strange when an employer I offered me an associate contract that included extensive sections about intellectual property (IP). Any tools, models, or methodologies I would get introduced to in the context of my work with them were never to be used by me outside that context. Moreover, all tools, models or methodologies developed by me in that context would immediately become their property, thus falling under the IP restrictions quoted above.
Where could such restrictions be coming from? The first thing I realized was it had to come from fear: fear that if other parties could dispose of these tools, they could win the competition for clients.
Later I began to see that something else was at play: the illusion that anyone can own anything in the universe. This delusion has been around since mankind started to herd cattle, build houses, cultivate land for crops. And it has expanded to include non-material things, such as ideas. Patents, copyrights, registered trademarks and so on have created imaginary boundaries in our universe.
The key consequence of this delusion has been inequality. Haves and have-nots. And reinforced fear, as stated above.
But if all of this is delusional, then what is reality? I like to summarize reality as ‘the universe is shareware’. The word ‘shareware’ became popular around the turn of the century, when people started to develop software that could be made available through the internet – virtual offerings.
Besides shareware, there was also freeware. Both did not require the customer to pay for the acquired applications.
So, what was the difference? With freeware we were completely free to do whatever we liked. We could use it, re-sell it, throw it away, and so on.
When acquiring shareware, we were always asked to comply with certain agreements, for instance:
- Please do not use this for commercial purposes (after all, you are not paying for it yourself)
- Please report to us how we can improve this application
- Please use on no more than x computers.
Why these agreements? Because the developers were aiming to be sustainable and accountable and asking us to play the game likewise.
I love this notion of shareware: it is not ours exclusively, but we – who developed this – ask you to use it in a way that keeps the universe a fair place.
And as I reflected on this notion of shareware, I discovered that in fact the entire universe is shareware. It is not freeware, for everyone and everything is dependent on its resources. But it is definitely shareware, for it is all we have, it is what we ourselves are made of and into which we will resolve again after death.
So, what about this contract?
I did sign it, and over time I realized that this restricting deal was taking more of my energy than it was giving me. A farewell was the only option left… Grateful for the lesson.