The Spooky Action at a Distance Anti-Pattern

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This page is a part of Design Patterns.

Its content is derived from the presentation "Building a Hacker Space" by Jens Ohlig and Lars Weiler.

Sustainability Patterns Independence Patterns Regularity Patterns Conflict Resolution Patterns Creative Chaos Patterns


Some once-core members drift away. This is not a problem - people move, burn out, get new jobs, change hobbies, have kids, etc. They're still connected with a few of the current members, but never or rarely participate in the space anymore. They're probably still subscribed to the mailing list. Often they hold on to a piece of core infrastructure such as the business certificate or the domain registration.


Then, there is a controversial, dramatic, or public discussion among the current participants. A former member suddenly swoops in and does any of these:

  • Writes long-winded emails about why one of these choices is terrible
  • Is oblivious to a new problem facing the space
  • Fails to understand that the culture of the space has changed
  • Complains about how terrible the space has become via social media

This sucks the energy out of those trying to resolve the debate. It makes it harder for problems to be solved, and poisons the next generation of your space's core members. The root of the problem is this: Because this person doesn't feel the consequences of their actions, they have less incentive to compromise.


Of course, the usual conflict resolution patterns apply - calm discussion, person-to-person instead of broadcast, and mediation.

First, tell the person in question that they're triggering this anti-pattern. Encourage them to participate in the space again. Calmly explain that while their contributions are still valued, they should really try to understand how the space has evolved. Hopefully that's enough. Otherwise, ask everyone to participate solely in person at the meeting. Mailing-list debates rarely work in any case.

If the debate gets really nasty, unsubscribe the non-member from the mailing-list and see how long it takes them to notice. This is generally not excellent, but can be if it saves the sanity of everyone who does participate in the space.