The Sarcastic aspect of Open Source community

At OSCON 2008, Danese Cooper asked me to give a lightning talk about the Art of Community. She mention I could talk about what the Brazilian politicians are doing wrong (been there, done that), or why Chaos Communication Congress rocks more than LinuxWorld, but I asked “can I talk about sarcasm?”

I love sarcasm. A lot of people in the open source community does. I can’t help myself – or we can’t help ourselves. So, that’s what I said – and what I didn’t had time to say – at the lightning talk game:

I’m Sulamita, I work for Intel in open source strategy – you could say that one part of my job is community management – I’ve working long time with Linuxchix, but I’m not standing here as Sulamita. Right now, I’m Sumalita, my evil alter ego – lots of people misspell/mistype my name in Brazil, and there was this particular time at a store where they were driving me nuts until they ended calling me Sumalita Gárcia. I also have a twitter account for Sumalita, where I post only my evil thoughts.

Sarcasm is an art. It’s the “smirking put-down that buries its barb by stating the opposite”. A research have mapped the brain area where sarcasm would be recognized – they thought it would be on the left side, responsible for language and social; but they found it on the right side. Once I read an easy way to put it, it’s like the left side understand you’re seeing a lion, and your right side says it’s not right for it to be on your yard.

People with head injuries often loose their ability to understand sarcasm. I have this theory that people under 18 years old also don’t understand it. The research suggest that sarcasm is an evolutionary mechanism, and people use it as a way to create groups – if you understand my jokes, you can be my friend.

Open Source community also loves sarcasm, especially on our t-shirts. The favorite one I’ve seen so far in this conference is “my other t-shirt is funnier”. (I’m using my own favorite now, “come to the dark side, we have cookies“.) It may be bad for newbies and building communities, but we do love it. Ok, probably not absolutely everyone…


A great source of sarcasm is Uncyclopedia, and here’s the Brazilian Uncyclopedia – Desciclopedia – definition about community:

Community is the most important part of Free Software, although the reciprocal is not the same. It’s composed by ‘engaged individuals’ looking for a better ‘ecosystem’ where the ‘knowledge’ and ‘ideas’ ‘sharing’ through ‘debates’ and ‘conferences’ in a big ‘digital group’ will happen in another time, because it’s more important go to conference, have lots of beer and take pictures with your colleagues.

Community does not code, does not translate anything, does not make bug reports, does not make any draw or manual, and throw the trash on the floor. But they’re against the system, the transgenic, and against all that stuff.

Community spend the day repeating words like community, free software, free software scenario, windows is evil, repeating it all day long, and repeating it next day. By mail or in big conferences where they can hear it from the speakers and keep repeating in the corridors.

They organize themselves in some kind of entity with several hierarchy levels with all kinds of names and spend most of their time resolving real problems like

  • The logo
  • The next president
  • which is the best distro
  • which distro is more free
  • when it’s going to be the next conference
  • which is going to be the t-shirt color
  • why people should follow Stallman, love him despite anything and believe everything he says

Another great example is the Uncyclopedia definition of GNU – “GNU (pronunciation: Gh-Moo) is a recursive acronym meaning GNU is Not Usable, and therefore GNU is Not Usable is Not Usable, GNU is Not Usable is Not Usable is Not Usable and so on. It can also be interpreted as Generally Not Used” .

Ok, 3 minutes and I’m totally blogging this 🙂


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