Session Outline & Resources:
An Ofrenda To Tech Ghosts
Acknowledgements & Content Warnings
- This session discussed death and loss, and attendees were asked to contribute from their personal experiences.
- This session was a part of the Queering space, and delivered through the Openness space
Build an Ofrenda for tech ghosts
Attendees were asked to think about 3 projects, products, or people that are no longer with us, use a placard to name each one, and in the back, write something that they cherished or was helpful about it.
In small groups, Attendees talked about loss and tribute, in tech and in our personal experiences, while sharing about (at least) one of the placards they wrote.
- I’m a Software Developer at TableXI, a Software Consultancy in Chicago.
- I’m a Community Organizer for Write/Speak/Code, a US organization dedicated to technologists of Marginalized Genders leveling up/showcasing their skills by writing, speaking, and contributing to open source.
- I’m a Blaxican (Mixed African American and Mexican), and as I grow to know myself and my heritage more, I’ve come to know traditions like Dia De Los Muertos.
Where did this talk come from?
In my role as a consultant, we have clients whose projects we maintain, and while addressing a ticket, I came upon a dependency that had been abandoned, AND a fork of that dependency also abandoned, which led to the question, “what happens when maintainers are no longer available, or worse, what happens when they die?”
This led to also consider what it means when products are no longer available to us, and the emotional connection we hold to them.
Last, this was around the time of Dia De Los Muertos, and the release of the movie Coco, and i wondered, What would it look like to consider the question through the lens of Dia De Los Muertos?
What is Dia De Los Muertos?
- A celebration of the dead on the 2nd of November from the Aztec culture, largely celebrated in Mexican communities.
- Involves an Ofrenda or an Altar that welcomes those who are no longer with us, back to be in community.
Terms and concepts I learned from researching this topic
Sunsetting (the planned discontinuation of a project/product)
Graveyards (documentation of failed projects, largely used in Venture capital and startup communities)
The Bus Factor (the concept to explain a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, derived from the phrase “in case they get hit by a bus.”
Post-Mortem (a process, usually performed at the conclusion of a project, to determine and analyze elements of the project that were successful or unsuccessful)
How do folks deal with abandoned projects right now?
- “Just Fork It”
- They don’t… creating tech waste
How do folks deal with death in open source right now?
What lessons can we take from Dia de los Muertos?
- Ritual is important
- The end of something should be celebrated
- People and things live on in the memories we hold and share of them
- When we create technology, we’re creating a thing that lives, and as such, we need to consider it’s death, and respect the relationship built between the creator and those who depend on the code, or who delight in it’s use.
- There’s something powerful about ritual, and it’s important for us to consider how to build that into the open source community.
How Might We… Brainstorming Activity
In groups, Attendees were asked to try to answer one of these questions:
how might we prepare ourselves to honor the wishes of maintainers as they take that step to move on from their work?
how might we plan for the end as we start a project?
how might we create ritual for the transition or sunsetting of a project?
how might we create space to celebrate projects that are no longer with us, but gave us something to cherish or learn?
Images of the Ofrenda
In addition to the placards that attendees created during the session, the ofrenda included the 23 names of trans folks who were murdered or committed suicide in the US in 2019.
How to continue the discussion
- Use the hashtag #OfrendaToTechGhosts on Twitter
- Contribute more resources for example practices around death or project transition.
- Consider rituals or practices from your culture or community that could surface practices for the Open Source Community.