My talk at EmacsConf 2021 and its backstory

This year’s Emacs conference (EmacsConf 2021) will take place on November 27 and 28. I will be among the speakers. My talk’s description:

How Emacs made me appreciate software freedom

The theme will be “how Emacs empowered my software freedom”. I will outline the key moments in my transition to a GNU/Linux operating system and mark those which eventually contributed towards me becoming an Emacs user, maintainer of a—dare I say—popular package, and contributor to upstream Emacs (among others). By alluding to personal experiences, I will draw generalisable insights and connect them to what I believe are irreducible qualities of Emacs qua software and Emacs as a community of like-minded people. The talk will be theoretical in nature: there won’t be any code-related demonstration nor technical references that only people with a background in computer science would likely recognise. Personal anecdotes shall be tangential to the point and considered as ancillary to the thesis of what Emacs represents from the standpoint of software freedom and user empowerment. The presentation is intended for a general audience that is interested in GNU software in general and Emacs in particular. My formal educational background as a social scientist (i.e. not a programmer) and later as a philosopher informs my approach to this topic.

The presentation shall be 40 minutes long. Its text will be in essay form and shall be supplied as complementary material to the video. The notation will be in Org mode.


I had no intention to participate in the event, even though I was well aware of it and despite the fact that I had followed the previous two conferences. My reasoning was that (i) I probably had no technical insight to share that wasn’t already known to the members of—and likely participants in—such a setting, (ii) I already have my website with a dedicated section on Emacs where I can publish any article or video I want, and (iii) EmacsConf provides a platform for people who are otherwise not disseminating their own stories to reach a wider audience. Some or all of these assumptions may have been fallacious. They still represent what I believed at the time.

At around the end of September, a few days before the deadline for the submission of proposals, someone knowledgeable of the conference’s logistics, whose name shall not be divulged, contacted me and asked me to deliver a talk. I was eventually persuaded to make an attempt at taking a 20-minute slot, but it was not feasible to condense my thoughts to such a short video, especially given the tight deadline (I was preoccupied with other issues, including the release of modus-themes version 1.6.0 that was made just in time for the creation of the emacs-28 branch in emacs.git). So I replied, perhaps with some relief, that I would not be available for this year’s event and would consider trying again the year after.

To cut the long story short, the 40-minute slot was considered a viable option and I made a last-ditch effort to submit an abstract before the deadline. It happened on the 30th of September.

There are lots of talks in this year’s conference. All seem very interesting and I am looking forward to watch them. Hopefully mine will be worth it as well.