Growing up as a lonely, bullied kid in the 90s, I found solace in books, computers, and later, the online world. In my quest to find belonging, never quite fulfilled, I've been involved with various communities over the year. A biography in toots:
I found BBSes in 1996, the internet in 1997, and free software in 1998. That year I dropped out of 12th grade (having flunked from being too distracted) and joined Chip magazine as a staff writer. I wrote the August 1999 cover story featuring Red Hat Linux 6.0. Chip was at that time the most popular computer magazine in India and that feature introduced Linux to a new generation. It also turned me from a loser to a mini celebrity, an alienation I've never quite recovered from.
I was one of India's first bloggers, starting in April 2000. We were in the single digits then. I treated it as a replacement for a paper diary. Since there was barely anyone online, there was no sense of need for a private space. I ran a decade long experiment in living a fully transparent life, and took too long to realise that the online personality had degenerated into a facade while the real me had retreated back into a private space. Twitter emerged as a new space. Joined early: 2007!
In 2004-6, fed up of software clients who had demands but offered little insight on actual user expectations, I went looking for Indian users. I built a website for the Centre for Study of Culture and Society, which offered India's first online degree granting graduate course (not correspondence; now defunct). I got inspired enough to join CSCS for a diploma course in cultural studies. We studied symbolism, Marx, Freud, postcolonialism and more. That changed my life. (1 of 4 parts to this era)
With a growing sense that online community was shaped by the UI as much as by the people, I applied for and received a fellowship from Sarai (at CSDS, Delhi). The hands-off program didn't work very well for me as a rookie academic however, so my output was mostly a collection of rants (among which, I anticipated microblogging, now Twitter, and private posts, since adopted by Facebook). Upshot: I met Zainab Bawa, a fellow… fellow, and now my partner of a decade and a half.
Seeking more stable employment, I joined Comat, a firm that pursued e-governance projects. Over here I found myself with a small but ringside role in India's then-largest biometric identity program (2006), a direct (and acknowledged) inspiration for Aadhaar (2009). I am truly sorry for what we did. We were blind to our own privilege and power, operating instead from a position of survival insecurity. This framing error has haunted me since, because it was not ours alone. Most of tech has it.
The dreariness of working on govtech left me seeking for external company again. In 2006, I started Barcamp Bangalore, an "unconference" where anyone was welcome to speak on anything and authority positions were mandatorily rotated, to avoid the tyrant state I'd seen other communities degenerate into. Barcamp still exists, although it's origins and key role in fostering Bangalore's startup culture have long been forgotten.
(Communities by definition are not the work of a single individual.)
Combining these four parts, I realised that (a) it was possible to architect a community, although of course much of it is organic, and (b) an intervention in tech was necessary because we were blind to our own power. In 2010, I started HasGeek (with Zainab Bawa) as an incubator for tech communities that held critical discussions of their own work.
We have since put nearly a thousand individuals on stage in front of an audience of hundreds of their peers.
HasGeek now pays for my livelihood.
Life took a turn again in 2015 when I wandered into the net neutrality debate as a campaign manager for #SaveTheInternet. We convinced a million individuals to petition the telecom regulator, and now have the world's best telecom policy. Heady celebrity once again followed (previously: Chip magazine). Insider understanding: celebrity is a job, not a status. It comes with responsibilities. As an activist, I was now expected to outrage regularly, and to my shock, policy making depended on this.
I made a conscious decision to quit in 2018 by declining all TV panel appearances and directing journalists with enquiries to better qualified experts (following my own 2006 Barcamp rule that authority must be rotated or will invariably devolve into tyranny). But before this wisdom manifested, I got dragged into another campaign around Aadhaar. It started with the pro-Aadhaar camp trying to recruit me to their side, based largely on celebrity activist status, not actual expertise.
After some goodwill-based engagement (2016) and further inquiry, all the prickly hairs from 2006 Comat era rose up. Same shit all over again. I had spent a decade working my way out of that trauma and now they were blindly applying it to a billion? Couldn't ignore it. Launched the Kaarana ("reason") project in 2017 (again, with others) to document Aadhaar's architecture and how this manifested in large scale outcomes. Our work went to court and is acknowledged in Justice Chandrachud's dissent.
Kaarana operated mostly underground, unlike SaveTheInternet. To assemble a decent understanding, we had to source from everywhere, including insiders, and funnel insights to journalists and lawyers all over. We had a hand in nearly every court case and news story through 2018. In the end, we lost.
Aadhaar's massive failures would surely cost an election? But Modi instead returned with a larger mandate. We didn't merely lose, we were crushed.
Which brings us to the theme of the present day: trauma.
How were we to reconcile with the rejection of reason? If anything, history teaches us that the first time is rarely ever the first time. How have peoples of the past reconciled with trauma?
I've spent the past year reading histories of religions, mythologies and oppressions. Some insights are starting to form. I don't know where it will lead yet.
For now though, I still have a job at HasGeek where our mission is to make technologists more thoughtful about their practice and responsible for the power they (often unknowingly) wield.
End of introduction. High five if you made it all the way here!
Lest this come across as a glory thread, I must clarify: I have failed at most of the things I've attempted, and the trauma of failure and rejection is an overarching theme in my life. It is not pleasant.
More on that as we warm up to each other.
@jackerhack That was one hell of a ride!
@jackerhack been reading you since the Chip days. And so awesomely happy that I know you and Z in this lifetime.
@jackerhack That's an interesting story.
I have heard a lot of opinions on Aadhaar, and to be honest don't really know what to make of it. A system like that is useful, but it seems the implementation has had some serious problems.
Do you have some references where I can read about what those problems are?
@loke Justice Chandrachud's dissent is the authoritative reference. It was used by the Supreme Court of Jamaica to shut down their program. If it's too much legalese though, the book Dissent on Aadhaar (where I have a chapter) is a gentler introduction. It's published from India but has a Kindle edition.
@jackerhack Kiran, I see you as having succeeded in most things you put your hand in. More on that if you are warmed up to it 😊
@tariquesani You want me to decline an ego massage? What is this, a trick question? 😝
@jackerhack ha ha ha!
@jackerhack Welcome. You are indeed a gem and I'm sad I've never followed you before. I've fixed that straight away. Amazing Bio as well.
BTW, Introductions needn't be self deprecating. You've done much more than anyone I've been associated with, which doesn't speak a lot for my associations or about myself
@varkychen Evidently two of us can play the self depreciation game.
@jackerhack 😄 To perfection!!
@jackerhack If you can toot a timeline of your journey - and an impressive one at that, you have already achieved way more than I can hope to 😅
Trauma is the reality for anyone interested in robust systems that work today. Whether it is healthcare professionals, activists or techies.
Wish I had an optimistic quote to insert here.
@jackerhack You are a warrior, accepting failures is not easy
hi, from a fellow 1998 batch. :)
@vjy 97 actually. Officially gave up in 98. Passed in 2001, a full four years later.
@jackerhack Hello Kiran! It's been a while.
@sajith Too long!
I am traveling now. I will catch up with you later.
@jackerhack Thanks for sharing this with us.
@jackerhack Kiran, very well thought out and written. Expectation of success in every endeavour is a relatively recent phenomenon, boosted in India perhaps by the early success of IT & ITES sectors. That's when we found it very difficult to take 'no' for an answer.
From my own, as well as others' experiences, the key is to believe in what hold right, and believe that you can set things right. You will shed/lose associates, but fresh & energetic minds will gravitate. I am hopeful for you. 👍
@jackerhack before this comes out wrong, nowadays more technology, nowadays technology including mastodon follows the rules code fast, break things without letting the wider community look at from privacy, security building perspectives. Mastodon is an example of that. Ideally, it should be an apt-gettable package
@shirishag75 While I'm all for easier installs, it has a downside: the problems of the hard parts that can't be automated get magnified because there are fewer gates blocking the path to them.
Things like keeping servers up long term, or good moderation.
@jackerhack while installs is one thing, the real issue is with security and privacy, when something is in Debian you know that it works and are somewhat secure because community has taken some steps to ensure you are not caught unawares esp. with hardening and stuff.
@shirishag75 Sensible defaults are only step 1 of a security practice.
@jackerhack true but that is from where it has all to begin, right ?
@shirishag75 Point remains: when you remove the initial roadblocks, you're exposing people to the hard problems that they will be guaranteed unprepared for. This is not an argument against removing roadblocks, it is just a warning of what will happen.
@jackerhack Excellent! Candid
Do you remember the BBS run by AtulChitnis ? You might remember me from there.
Well that bbs was probably something similar you might say ?
@Luq of course, Lukhman. I'm still on your list, although only Ajit posts there. CiX taught many lessons, yes. Took a decade+ to learn them though.
Help me with this please
If the govt want to trace your identity on mastodon, snoop on you in general
1. Can they do it by themselves
2. Will they have to get it from mastodon
3. Will they be helped by the platform in any way, how birdsite helps the govt
4. What hold does the govt have on this place
@Luq Anything you post in public can be used to identify you. Often, the task ends there. Beyond that, your Mastodon host may or may not choose to honour an official government request for private information such as your email address or the IP addresses you're active from. They don't have much more than that.
@Luq As a small network, it's likely below attention. As a federated network, it's also a game of whack-a-mole. The only real worry here is a rogue host.
@jackerhack I had that CD till last Ayudha pooja. I had most of the CDs came with Chip Magazine.
@jackerhack Hey, I remember that issue!
@jackerhack good to have you here :)
@jackerhack Good to see you here :)
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