Gift theory, reciprocity, and economic anthropology are all side obsessions of mine. I originally trained as a cultural anthropologist, and it's still an enormous part of how I understand and operate in the world.
Like any good cult, once you're indoctrinated you can never leave.
Henry and I began discussing the parallels between gift economies and open source software (OSS) last summer.
At the time I barely knew anything about OSS. Which made me fairly typical. 99.9% of the world haven't a clue about the rich, dramatic cultural history of Linux, or Xerox PARC, or the browser wars. Despite the fact 99.9% of the software we all depend upon is built using open source projects. It's invisibility and pervasiveness alone makes it worth a closer look.
Henry earned his stripes in the OSS world as the core maintainer of
Our chat is wide ranging discussion where we're both thinking out loud and exploring ideas, rather than coming to insightful or profound conclusions. We're doing some follow-up episodes in the coming months as well.
How can we make the interactions and exchanges between contributors and maintainers more personal and relationship-based?
Developers have enourmous cultural power in the world that is rarely acknowledged in the community. What developers value and believe comes out in what tools get built, which in turn shapes how culture evolves.
and how we know what we know. The value of tacit, subjective truth in addition to explicit, objective truth. We're in a historical moment where the emphasis on the disembodied rationalist view has drowned out the value of embodied, personal knowing.
Traditional hacker culture glorifying programming as a cerebral, disembodied activity.
We haven't yet figured out how to make our digital tools embodied. Which carries over into how we experience social relationships through them.
The more professionalised skills become, the harder it is for people to join. Programming at least tries to knock down those gatekeepers and trumpets the narrative that we roll out the welcome mat for people. Open source often acts as that open door.