The lower the layer on the pyramid of needs is, the more important it is for person’s physical and mental health; however, all layers of the networking stack are equally important for the resilient Internet. In this instalment of the series, Vesna Manojlovic goes to the third layer - network connections and the need for belonging.
In the “hourglass” illustration of the Internet Protocol (IP) Suite, the IP layer is placed at the “waist”, making it central to all the other layers. In the analogy I've drawn between the OSI Stack to the Maslow motivational system, the third networking layer of the former falls into line with the need for love and belonging of the latter, which also mark the mid-point between the basic needs and higher motivations.
Since the IP networking is the core of the RIPE community and the RIPE NCC’s mission, enough has already been said about the importance of network “health” by my colleagues. I now want to talk about the role that the feelings have in maintaining the resilience of the RIPE Community.
I will first focus on the aspects of “belonging” that are important for the thriving of the technical communities in general - since we are humans, too - and then on the emotional impact of global COVID-19 epidemic.
Love Connections >>> Network Connections
The smallest computer network is a connection between two nodes; in a larger system, all the connected nodes belong to a network: Local, Wide, Metro….
The smallest “human network” is a connection between two people — and that is also the smallest unit of love and belonging; by creating and maintaining additional connections, people belong to groups of people — Local, Wide and Metro :)
Humans form social networks: couples, families, groups of friends, music bands, sport teams, hackerspace membership, community of peers, affiliation group (workers, professionals, expats, refugees, fans of a celebrity, migrants, believers, citizens…)…
However, the “networking” terms have been used and mis-used a lot, creating paradoxes such as “If everything is a network, nothing is a network”, as Mushon Zer-Aviv presented at re:publica in 2016 (and here’s his essay, too)
To paraphrase social scientist Brené Brown, who could have been talking about peering:
“Network connectivity is not something that we give or get;
it is a connection between two nodes”
The original quote is about belonging:
“love is not something that we give or get;
it is a connection between two people when it exists within each one of them”,
These concepts are so fundamental and self-explanatory, yet so complex that they are really hard to define properly. Thats’s why both social scientists and computer scientists (and philosophers, and poets…) have been researching these topics for a long time.
Empathy as a Superpower
If you've been working in the “technical field” for a while, you might have noticed that there is a tendency to refer to the “soft skills” when it comes to competency in communication, interacting with other humans, team-playing… as if these are somehow inferior to the “hard” skills! I would argue that the former should be called “robust” or “fundamental”, since they are what “makes or breaks” efficient teams and organisations.
Sometimes technical communities are even struggling with the lack of “social skills”, which tend to make working on “belonging” when it comes to diversity and inclusion an extra hard task. (I will get back to the topic of “cognitive” skills / needs in the article about Layer 5.)
In order to meet our needs for belonging, we should be able to *feel* the feelings, to value the emotions as part of overall communication, to be able to recognise feelings in ourselves and others, and to express them in constructive, or at least not harmful ways. That super-power is called empathy (or compassion).
Several technical conferences have included “soft” topics over the years; here are the pointers to the videos from the speakers that also took part in the RIPE Community:
- Leslie Hawthorn, ElasticSearch/RadHat: Cultivating Empathy (Froscon, 2015)
- Bert Hubert, PowerDNS: Out of the data center: tales from the recovering manager (NLNOG, 2015)
- Allison Parrish, : Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic (Open Hardware Summit, 2016)
- Erik Romijn: The road to unempathic communities is paved with good intentions (DjangoCon, 2017)
- Niall Richard Murphy, Google: Diversity and Inclusion in SRE: A Postmortem (USENIX SRE COM, 2017)
- Deb Nicholson, OSI: A Bug in Your Ear: Patching the People Side (FOSDEM 2018)
- Meredith Whittaker, AI Institute: Collective Action in AI - Ai In Society (Falling Walls Conference, 2019)
- Merlijn Sebrechts, Hackerspace Ghent: How to solve conflict in a community of equals (CCC, 2020)
- Mek: On Doing Good Enough (HOPE2020)
- Matteo Bruno, Viacom / Kockava: How to defeat imposter syndrome: Confessions of a developer (FOSDEM, 2021)
Here are warmest recommendations for books, articles and courses:
- “The Little Guide to Empathetic Technical Leadership", book by Alex Harms , also available FREE to read online
- "Non-Judgmental Communication for Agile Teams" by Olga Kouzina
- "Cultivating Empathy for the Next Crisis", by Joe Brewer
- "What Makes A Good Community?", by Sage Sharp
- Do we need next generation of telepathy machines when we already have empathy?, by Kat McGowan
- NVC training: https://cupofempathy.com
And there has been whole events dedicated to Open Source and Feelings: https://www.osfeels.com/
- Non-Violent Communication for Fun, Profit, and Self Defense by Isaac Schlueter
- Learning to Empathy by Alex Harms
- Enforcing Your Code of Conduct: Effective Incident Response by Audrey Eschright
- Listen to Your (and All) Mothers: How to Create Family-Inclusive Tech Communities by Jen Myers
- The Ethics and Responsibilities of Open Source in the IoT by Emily Gorcenski
- When the Worst Happens: Moving Forward After the Unexpected Death of a Core Organizer by Christie Koehler
Love in the Time of Corona
During the Covid-19 pandemic, maintaining connections was difficult. Our needs for belonging were not being met. We couldn't join our usual groups, small or large. We couldn't express our love nor receive the expressions of love from our fellow “nodes”.
Emotional impact has been noticeable, and most of it negative: sadness, loneliness, grief.
Here are some studies that try to quantify, measure, and visualise these intangible findings:
- March 2020:
- August 2020: Processing risk and building empathy
- October 2020: Visual Capitalist: Measuring Impact of COVID-19 on the USA population (illustration is at the bottom of the article!)
Now, in April 2021, a year into the pandemic, there have been so many lessons learned, and therefore quite some advice is available on the practicalities of working in these distressing times:
Grief: The Silent Emotion
There were many losses during the pandemic - but there is one complex emotion that almost no-one is ready to talk about: grief. Science shows that processing painful emotions helps to heal from them sooner. Here are some helpful recent articles and scientific papers to show you that you are not alone in your grief:
- Acute grief after deaths due to COVID-19, natural causes and unnatural causes: An empirical comparison
- What we’ve learned about bereavement during the pandemic
- Grief Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Multiple Group Comparisons
- Additional grief of emigrants
- Does grief ever go away? by David Kessler
Technical Communities: Work and Social Belonging
In the early 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, technical communities came together in their actions against corona:
- and of course, our own RIPE Labs: https://labs.ripe.net/covid19
Calls for Action
If you are looking for more ways to meet your need for love and belonging, here are some possibilities:
- Join an online event: at the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) calendar you can see global events of technical communities:
- Even if you are not "a techie", you can join the next "Write The Docs" event: 25-26-27 April 2021 (Virtual)
- Check the COVID risk before you engage in social activities!
MicroCOVID project is "...trying to quantitatively estimate the COVID risk to you from your ordinary daily activities.
We trawled the scientific literature for data about the likelihood of getting COVID from different situations, and combined the data into a model that people can use. We estimate COVID risk in units of microCOVIDs, where 1 microCOVID = a one-in-a-million chance of getting COVID.
We want to help as many people as possible feel more empowered to make decisions around COVID risk by helping them understand how COVID is transmitted. We hope this tool will help hone your intuition, lower your stress levels, and figure out good harm-reduction strategies."
Keep your social connections, feel your feelings, share your emotions. All this will help you to build resilience, both individually and as a part of community. And resilient networkers make a resilient Internet!