Open Source 🐧️
Walls Don't Work
In 1991 I was nine years old.
I remember this year well in my life because that was right around the time I got a brand new 386 Compaq. For any of you that have no idea what I am referring to, it’s a very primitive (by today’s modern standards) computer and it ran an operating system called MS-DOS, or Microsoft Disk Operating System, a precursor to the Windows operating system that many of you use today. I used it mostly to play shareware and point and click adventure games but it also laid the groundwork for an early understanding of computing and technology that I carry with me today.
You see, operating these computers happened mostly through command line and seemed to always be a constant form of troubleshooting with drivers to get any of the games to actually work. This computer is also where I used my first modem (a 2800 baud if you’re curious) to connect to local BBS providers usually with only 1-3 active lines for people to use at a time (remember this is a dial up modem.)
I spoke about The Pace of Change in a previous article and think these early beginnings of connecting people (through technology) has unlocked a wave of potential innovation that we are really only starting to realize as a culture. It’s upon us and I firmly believe since the global pandemic is now starting to pick up pace and we are only seeing a widening gap between those with access and equal opportunities as ever despite more than three decades of human progress.
For me, having the opportunity to work with these early systems changed my life and, in many ways, was found in the ability for open source systems and communities to reach a very unlikely place like Duncan, Oklahoma. I was exposed early on to the opportunities presented by modern technology and those early experiences are a big reason I am able to do the job I do to provide for my family and the Bonney Lake Food Bank today.
I share this story to describe my experience a bit but also to highlight the importance of access to not just technology but the possibilities it provides, especially in today’s world. I didn’t necessarily understand it at that time but what I was really participating in was the beginning of a concept that has changed our world forever, it’s called Open Source.
Open Source 🐧️
If you google the term Open Source you’ll see it leads you to the concept of open source software that was started right around the time I describe these early experiences I had with my 386. The formal definition I most agree with for Open Source is:
“The term open source refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible”
The advent of this approach to open systems has changed our culture forever and I believe unlock incredible possibilities for change in our society. You see, it has changed a bit from it’s more literal, early software origins and been widened to include a broader set of values including:
rapid prototyping, transparency;
My favorite example of the possibilities of Open Source comes from an individual named Linus Torvalds, also someone who got their first 386 right around 1991. If you have never heard of him, Linus developed Linux, the world’s most popular operating system.
Linux, like MS-DOS, was an operating system but instead of a company like Microsoft that created and monetized the consumption of the OS it was one that depended on a wide network of contributors enabled by technology to build and grow a digital public good that changed the world forever.
If you ask anyone that really knows me they will tell you I have a fascination and dedication to the Linux movement and it’s something I could bore most people to death talking to no end about. Linux runs the servers and smart phones that run the world, our daily lives and it is widely considered the most successful open source project of all time. The internet enabled this innovation and doing what we can to build open systems that allow for access, equity and inclusion is more important now than ever in our history.
Walls Don’t Work 🧱
So what does the concept of Open Source have to do with The Bonney Lake Food Bank? Well, I’m glad you ask. It has everything to do with the Bonney Lake Food Bank.
Something I have observed through this crazy journey with The Bonney Lake Food Bank is the closed systems that dominate the food industrial complex. Food banks and pantries operate as a very decentralized network (much to my surprise upon first entry here) not unlike the highly proprietary world of computing that Linux was introduced into back in the early 90's. To put it simply: walls just don’t work in systems this critical and I think in much the same way Linux thrived through human collaboration and ingenuity we can unlock the same kinds of disruptive potential and bounty that exists in our communities today.
Everyday at the Bonney Lake Food Bank we are working to meet scaling needs in a system that is getting more precarious. Technology has gone a long way to help us be agile in how we have dealt with the crisis happening in our community. Some examples of this can be found in our approach to Innovation including Cloud-Based Communication, IoT Connected Lockers, or inventory management.
As I type this to you we are seeing all time high numbers of clients due to the increasing gap I described to you a few paragraphs up. We believe opening up ourselves to collaborate with a network of farmers, food producers, logistics, community stakeholders, and local government is how we can help contribute to our shared responsibility and emphasize an open source approach to this community effort.
We hope you will join us on the mission if you haven’t already and we appreciate each and every one of you that is already here. Together we have made a difference and you need to do no more than go by The Market on a sunny day (we are not getting enough of those right now, by the way) and see the open system at work that we believe is the future of food banks. If you haven’t had that experience I would love to set it up for you.
I hope this story told a bit of my perspective on how our computer systems aren’t that different from our human networks and being able to meld the two in harmony can present much needed opportunities for progress.
Until next time