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Why Fight The Oaks?


Some time ago I took a walk through an oak grove in deep-Central Florida. If you don't know much about Florida, just know that this is an area where an oak grove can go a long time without some human trudging through it. I'm not sure any human had ever walked through this one.

It was huge, probably a football field's size, with full grown oaks as far as the eye can see. Oaks need a lot of space to spread, so this wasn't a dense forest, but rather a huge open space with an occasional tree trunk to be navigated around. However, what struck me about this forest wasn't the oaks themselves. It was the terrain they had created for themselves.

While the ground under the trees appeared to be perfectly even, solid ground, it was actually purely comprised of leaves and twigs. At any given spot the ground cover was probably a good 6 - 10 inches deep, so that you'd be up past your ankles in debris before finding something solid to stand on. It felt not unlike walking through a field of fresh fallen snow.

Overhead the shade was perfect. Not just in the sense of being perfectly comfortable, but also in the sense that there was not an inch of sunlight which the oak leaves had not yet intercepted. Any other plants which might wish to grow in this grove would have very little light to work with. The lack of sunlight, coupled with the deep but porous ground cover, made it extremely difficult for any plant to find a foothold in this grove.

It was a nearly perfect system, and there were hardly any other plants in the entire space. The grove had been monopolized.

I wondered how the situation would ever change. If one of the trees died, would some weeds be able to sneak in and claim its spot? How many dandelions would it take to secure a foothold and overthrow the oak tree overlords? Could the weeds take hold before the neighboring oaks of the dead tree spread over and took its share of the sun? Seemingly not, or it would have happened.

And yet... something would eventually cause the oaks to give way. Something which could take them on all at the same time. Perhaps a disease which attacks their leaves, or an imported beetle which eats their bark, or a shopping mall which must sell sneakers right on top of them. Nothing can last forever. And after the shopping mall has come and gone, the weeds will still be there, lying in wait, ready to reclaim what's theirs.


I think about this image a lot. I have trouble describing my motivations in developing things like cryptic-net, or wanting to self-host my own email server, or being interested in the gemini protocol, or insisting on not using Apple or Facebook or Microsoft products (and working towards freeing myself of Google products as well!). Sure, these things are cool, but why should anyone invest their time into these lost causes? The whole of the internet is owned by like 8 companies. They won. The users are all captured, and the hardware is locked down. The sunlight has been taken, the terrain has been made inhospitable. Why fight the oaks?

It's important to me because I know things can be better. I know that, given the right tools, people can manage their own online presence, and by doing so can more freely present themselves to the world. The internet works best when it connects people directly, rather than through the prism of shareholder needs and dopamine abuse.

These alternatives, these simple tools which can survive with few users and fewer resources, these are the weeds. The web as we know it now will, one day, give way. The oaks will die. The weeds will have a shot at taking a foothold, before some other kind of megaflora claims the territory and ruins the internet again. And on that day, I want the weeds to have a chance.

Published 2022-10-12