How Slowness Can Support Open Source Sustainability

The current default for tech seems to be speedy and not particularly sustainable, said Deb Nicholson, free policy expert and general manager of the Open Source Initiative, in a recent talk at 2021 Online. If we want to make tech more sustainable, Nicholson suggested, maybe we should slow down and consider the definition of sustainability as it relates to using resources in such a way that they do not become depleted.

Maybe we need to focus on the resource that is most precious, which is the people who are excited about working on projects, she said in the talk, titled "Move Slow and Try Not to Break Each Other." 

In a developer or contributor sense, then, how do we not use up people’s energy, she asked. “How do we make sure that the places where people are contributing their energies are places where they want to do that for a long time?” 

Thinking about slowness, Nicholson said, led her to think about snails and why they are good at being slow. Turns out that snail slime has some useful characteristics, which can be applied to open source as well. These characteristics include:

  • Adherence, which for open source means adhering to and actively communicating goals.
  • Lubrication, which involves collaboration and relationship building.
  • Recognizing other snails or, in the case of open source, finding like-minded people and treating them respectfully.
  • Repulsing predators, which can mean protecting your slow development environment and educating others about the benefits of slowness.

Nicholson’s thoughtful and deeply humane talk further explored the culture of slowness, including the idea that “slower is kinder.” A slower approach, she said, also means you have time for other things, such as the time to build something amazing.

Watch the complete presentation.