Should we stop flying to our free software conferences?

Whelp, the latest IPCC report doesn’t beat about the bush. It whacks right into it. And, yes, while governments and companies need to take responsibility and finally start to DO something, we all still have a personal responsibility.

As KDE we’re working on the energy consumption of our applications (which already has shown something we, the Krita developers, can do right away), I changed to buying the electricity I use for building Krita (and everything else) from the local windmill coop… I don’t drive, never have, and that pile of wood next to the stove dates back to 2018, and we’re not going to burn it any more. (Why would we — it’s too warm in winter, when we came to live here in 2007, we needed that stove because it was too cold otherwise!)

All of that is peanuts.

But there is one place where we, as a free software community, have to take responsibility (that word again) and stop doing something we absolutely love to do, and for which we’ve been pining.

In-person conferences with a world-wide attendance.

I’m hating having to say this, and I’m hating that I have to say that it is inevitable, and I hate that many of my Krita collaborators won’t actually be meeting me, the improved second release, but… We, as a free software community need to have this discussion, and until now, all I’ve seen has been silence.

Flying always scared me irrationally, but that’s not the reason I think we should stop it. Cheap air travel is only possible because it’s subsidized, untaxed and airlines are being kept alive only as a matter of national pride. And that’s the only reason we can actually afford to fly people from all around the world to conferences, sprints, Akademies and the like.

Our conference model is built upon something we wouldn’t be able to afford if air travel was priced in accordance with its real cost.

And, we’re probably not going to miss the presentations, much? Most presentations at free software conferences are, honestly, a bit meh. A conference with presentations is something we’ve copied from Academia. What we’re really missing is the meetings, the chats, the sitting together at a table and making notes, the occasional pair programming, the making new acquaintances, the gossip.

And the remote conference format pretty much only provides the presentations, with a bit of chat, which we already have next to it. And I really cannot handle remote conferences myself. For meetings and BoF sessions, I get a headache in a minute or ten. For presentations, especially when pre-recorded, I get bored in under a minute. That sucks.

Maybe we can find a better on-line get-together activity. Max Miller from Tasting History has a virtual cocktail party with his patreons. Maybe the next virtual conference could start with planning and facilitating the socializing, and only add in a program as an afterthought?

But whatever, we still should not go back to burning enormous amounts of kerosene for our get-togethers. Would it be too much to say that that would be criminal?