Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
The next Tor, role models, and criticism: the future I want
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I'm writing these words while I ride the New York City subway. I love the subway because my fellow riders look like the world. I'm rarely the only woman and I'm never the only nonwhite person in the car. We're young and old, all genders, all nationalities, temporarily able and not (although our stations fail at accessibility a lot), and speaking dozens of languages.
We'll know we've won when open source looks like this.
It doesn't yet. But we need it to. It is because I know how much potential technology has to shape our world that I know it is essential that the people who shape that technology represent that world, represent the best that world has to offer. What will it look like when open source reflects diversity of talent?
New tools we make -- the next git, the next WordPress, the next Tor -- will make inclusive assumptions from the start. They'll allow users to change their names and identify outside the gender binary. They'll help users block harassers from contacting them. Their FAQs will use nongendered examples.
When a junior programmer looks around for a way to make her mark, she'll see people who look like her doing lots of cool stuff in open source -- starting projects, leading them, arguing over architectural decisions, joking about absurdly bad ideas, showing off their accomplishments at conferences, teaching and learning, and generally having a good time. She'll dip her toe into online discussions, and the hackers already in the group will use her preferred pronoun, correctly, or ignore her gender if it isn't relevant to the discussion. She will see so easily how this community could include her that she will only notice in retrospect the moment she fell in.
As a gag, people who have been doing open stuff for decades will send their less senior friends links to the Timeline of Incidents, anticipating their "they did WHAT?!" replies. A new generation of activists will look back at the Ada Initiative and keenly observe what we missed, what we got wrong, where we were too complicit in the intersecting oppressions endemic to our society, too much of our time.
I want this future so much. I may not ever get to see it. But I can see us getting closer. I'm on the board of directors of the Ada Initiative, and I've been an advisor since 2011. In that time I've seen the Ada Initiative's unique work changing the conversation, building the infrastructure of inclusion, and moving us closer to -- well, to a world that doesn't need us any more.
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