28 October, 2020
I still pull out the old joke that "Linux is only free if your time is worthless", especially since it remains so widely applicable. We tend to be pretty terrible at placing a value on our time.
When I was a kid I was lucky enough to see time as an abundant resource. There was always more time. My first shift in that perspective was the imposition of scarcity. Happily ensconced at a friend's house, my mum would arrive and declare: "It's time to go home". Now I lived in a world in which time must be managed. Doled out, like pocket money.
That analogy continues into adulthood. Time is a resource, like money. It must be carefully managed, as there's not an infinite supply. We talk about "wasting time", perhaps even "losing time", and, most oddly, about "making time".
This is where the analogy fails. Time is not money. Time cannot be stockpiled. We cannot work hard to acquire more. We cannot give those who have a shortage of available time some of our abundance. We cannot borrow time from those who would seek to lend.
Yet we persist in the fallacy. We talk of borrowed time, of lending time, of giving time. All of these are turns of phrase which strengthen the idea of time as money while shining a light on the fact that it most certainly is not.
However, while time is not money, it is definitely valuable. It is perhaps the most valuable resource we have, as it is with time that we can provide attention.
That value is something we should hold dear, and it is why Linux is only free if your time is worthless.
But flip it on its head: what if your goal is to learn Linux? If the cost of that knowledge is hours of time, this is a different reckoning. Suddenly, it's not about whether Linux is free, but if the knowledge is worth the "tuition fee" of my attention.
Viewed through that lens, it seems like it could be a worthwhile trade.