Jenga Computing

This entry is part of rosa's Ecofeminist Dictionary from the project A Traversal Network of Feminist Servers (ATNOFS) and is based on two conversations with Roel Roscam Abbing, Lídia Pereira, and Aymeric Mansoux of LURK1.

LURK mostly works on their servers and services with very little time and, up until very recently, no budget so, "everything is working on scraps, DIY, and tons of tons of gaffer tape." One of the servers that was running the mailing list used to be just hack on top of hack to keep it running. It only started to look properly administered quite recently. I don't think anyone in the LURK community notices, but from the administrator point of view, it feels like one of those super fragile games where it's all in a very fine balance… touch one wrong piece and it all collapses: Jenga Computing. The word “jenga” is derived from the Swahili word – “kujenga” – “to build,” but for LURK, Jenga refers to a fragile balance. It relates to the diagram they made for their chapter's workshop. It was called precipice workflow. There is a logic behind what they do, but they are constantly trying to make room for something that takes time and is complicated, yet often situations force them to act quickly.

Building things from scraps and making do with what they can find made them think of a 2020 Mastodon toot by Diana Thayer2 about a future with two major camps of techno-radicals: librists and junkers. The description of the junkers especially resonated with LURK.

"librists – actually, libre-ists – believe in ethical works from the ground up. they operate far-flung rare earth repositories and small-scale manufacturies which produce artisanal computers. wood finish, decent transistor count, moddable, open source. in many ways: the dream of open hardware.
Junkers take what exists. the logistics of producing electronics are slow at best and critically unreliable the rest of the time, so junkers repair machines left by the capitalists, it's shit tech made shittier by age, but there's plenty of it so at least you never run out of spares.
'That's comcast tech,' a librist says with disgust.
'Zero net waste op,' the junker replies dismissively." — Diana Thayer – 2020

Making Do

LURK’s Mastodon instance requires a more powerful machine, for which LURK is supported by Greenhost3, but for their back-up server and server Agnes, which is running xmpp4, the mailinglist, and mumble5, they reuse old hardware. Even though this initially wasn’t driven by an ecological motive, it results in a smaller footprint. The production of hardware is responsible for most of the resource use and energy consumption in a device's lifecycle, meaning that most energy is already consumed before a device is turned on for the first time.6 Being frugal with energy is of course a good idea, but it can never compensate for the energy used during a device’s production; buying a more efficient machine is not a solution (unless it concerns a device that uses more energy during its use-phase than during its production, such as a kettle). Next to that, working with older hardware means working within limits. Especially on Agnes, everything needs to be lean because it doesn't have a lot of power. They don't use virtualisation, for instance, because it uses too many resources. Not optimizing is not acceptable. They've always considered that as simple ethics — not doing it would be wasteful.

LURK traces the ethics of anti-wastefulness back to practices from 25 years ago. At that time hacker communities repurposed old machines and discarded hardware by putting the operating system Linux on it. A lot of places, like Access Space7 in Sheffield and Amsterdam Subversive Center for Information Interchange (ASCII)8, were using this approach. At that time it was more anti-consumerism than environmental activism: giving a second life to these things and giving them to people who couldn’t afford a new machine. Things have changed a lot since then though; old machines are still fine for low level tasks, but crapware such as bloated websites, video conferencing tools, and office suites ruin this potential for the average user. For servers it can still work, depending on what types of services you are running. Our conversation paused briefly, then LURK’s junker ethos was expressed thus:

"We are not forecasting about collapse, we are not environmentally friendly by design, we are mirroring the shit we are in. We're trying to make do with bits and pieces." — Lurk, 2022

They don’t profile themselves as a feminist server, but the way they approach the Code of Conduct (CoC) and Terms of Service (ToS)9 of their Mastodon instance as living documents that need to be performed is clearly rooted in feminist practice. These texts are constantly updated based on what the moderators experience. LURK is attentive to how these documents work in two directions, relying on users flagging problems to moderators, as well as relying on the wordings of their CoC and ToS making users feel either encouraged or discouraged to report certain things to the moderators, especially things that are hard to describe in a set of rules: micro-aggressions such as being made to feel invisible, regularly being corrected on details, or subtle sub-toots only recognizable as such by the one targeted. LURK wants to pay attention to this intangible unease you can experience in online social spaces, so people feel more legitimized to mention it to the moderators.

LURK started experimenting with a model for financial sustainability of their services through voluntary donations by users via Open Collective10, a legal and financial toolbox for grassroots groups. They try to test and create a precedent that can hopefully help normalize paying for services that commercial actors are able to offer for free because of their business models based on user surveillance, targeted advertisement, and data brokering. LURK's funds support labor instead of hardware and are visibilizing normally invisible labor to help improve things “one jenga block at a time”. LURK succeeded in receiving trust from a group of people who feel at home on their servers. They don't consider themselves a shelter but do believe there is something happening, something consistent; people tend to stick around.

  1. LURK started out as a small collective of artists/hackers, cultural workers, art, sound, and design practitioners (from makers to writers) interested in facilitating and archiving discussions around net- and computational culture and politics, proto- and post-free culture practices, (experimental) (sound) (new media)(software) art, and other such topics. They have been active since 2014, and today they are best described as both a collective and a community of communities. Practically speaking, they offer, to like-minded people and peers, the possibility to host their email discussion lists, access instant messaging services, participate on alternative social media platforms, as well as make use of an audio and video streaming server for events, radios, and miscellaneous experiments.
  2. Diana Thayer (2020). future: junkers and librists. Available from:\@garbados/104773822292321383
  3. Greenhost is a Dutch hosting company whose servers are at the Evoswitch data centre in Amsterdam, which runs on wind energy.
  4. xmpp or Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol is an open communication protocol meant for (among other things) instant messaging. It functions as a federated open system (like email), meaning anyone can run their own server.
  5. Mumble is an open source, cross platform, voice over IP application used mostly by gamers.
  6. Pickstone, J. (2021, June 10) The environmental impact of our devices: revealing what many companies hide, The Restart Project. Available from:
  7. Access Space is a digital art lab in Sheffield (UK) which promotes sustainability, as well as access to digital tools for those living in poverty, through the reuse of old hardware and revamping it with free/libre open source software.
  8. The Amsterdam Subversive Center for Information Interchange (ASCII) was a squatted communication lab in Amsterdam, which promoted free/libre open source software and building computers from scavenged parts. ASCII moved to different locations until it closed permanently after being evicted in 2006.
  9. LURK (2023) TERMS OF SERVICE / CODE OF CONDUCT / PRIVACY. Available from:
  10. Open Collective (2023) LURK. Open Collective. Available from: