“naked on the dance floor (@bnox)”…”love your geeks! (Tom Steinberg)”…”I deal with governments that are actually evil (@edyson)”…”why aren’t more journalists being arrested in Europe? where is the civil courage? (Julian Assange)”…”yes, but I am afraid it will be in English (@j_zim)”…”@jonworth @tom_Watson lets do it (@marietjed66) “…all this was said in the Personal Democracy Forum Europe 2009 (the first!).
It was a good conference. Speakers were carefully selected and they mostly performed very well. For two days, 20 and 21 November a group of wonks, techies, party members, marketeers, Internet analysts and other species gathered together in Jean Nouvel‘s Torre Agbar (or it was Renzo Piano‘s? ) in Barcelona.
During these two days, the guys of CivicoLive streamed the audio of all talks and Q&A (which you can find here). The twitter hashtag #pdfeu was crazily singing ideas, proposals and daring statements about what was being said (and asked, particularly by Mr. Committee of the Regions). The buzz in and around the nicely designed (and rather dysfunctional) tower was intense. Though Spanish media seemed not to have realised, for although the conference was happening in Barcelona, it has been mostly reported only in foreign newspapers and televisions (friends and family are still wondered if I really was in a conference or in a long and dark party somewhere along the coast) (Gemma Urgell’s quick analysis on this lack of vision by Spanish journalists (or editors) (catalan)).
When something goes well, the best is the people. Speakers, organisers (I must thank here Andrew Rasiej @rasiej, Micah Sifry @mlsif, Marc Lopez @mlopezplana and all the staff) and audience were not an exception to this rule. I had great conversations, and met brilliant and open people with vitality enough to build another Torre Agbar together. Among the topics discussed we had cloud culture, the eurosphere, how the internet is changing politicians, the transparency moment or we.gov vs. e-gov. Already there are many blog posts around, many of them in Spanish or Catalan (for the obvious space-time dimension). @xpeytibi has a good 4-part “report” (spanish) with a list of what has been written by others (in french, english, spanish, catalan) at the end. Writing for (y)EU has a good chronicle, too.
Let me just comment on a few things.
1. The conference started with the video of the Free Hugs campaign. Mellow song and a guy with a “Free Hugs” sign given just that, free hugs. PDFEU ended with the video of where the hell is matt?. Again a mellow song, and a guy (again) dancing in front of the camera alone and with many people in many places in the world.
I like these videos. I like the idea behind, but starting and ending with them gives an idea of what wants to be imprinted with PDF: technology is uniting us, because we are one and mostly nice. The message is good. The idea is laudable. As much as the Teletubbies are a great series for kids. And perhaps as real as the Teletubbies. The conference was marked by an ideologically driven idea of the power of technology and the good things we can do in the future. This cannot be ignored. I am not saying I don’t share it, but its defence and imprinting conceals realities that are also worth exploring. For example, how one “common language” can be a danger for cultural diversity (or not), how technology is actually destroying the environment, how bad or insufficient focusing only on transparency helped by technology can be (Lawrence Lessig’s article on this), how technology change political behaviour not necessarily for good, or whether leaving the world in the hands of hackers is actually a good thing (against the “leave your geeks alone” mantra).
Perhaps this was not the forum to talk about some of these things. But I missed a bit of a more critical view on the relation between political and technology.
2. This techno-optimism develops easily into technophilia. Before the conference, in a round table in the US consulate Andrew Rasiej (@rasiej) said that good technology becomes transparent. For him this was a good thing. For me it may be a danger. Cars have become transparent, and from the moment we didn’t see it as external to us, as machine, but as an extension to it, “the spirit of technology” conquered us and our behaviour changed adding aggression, impatience and lust for the machine.
Technology is not only a tool. It is not neutral. It has an effect on us and our society. Ignoring this can bring a world we were not wishing for, as many science fiction books and movies have shown us for many decades (Brave New World, 1984, Metropolis, The Machine Stops). In the pdfeu we talked a lot about technological instruments and tools that will help us to make this world more democratic, participative and transparent. But not much about the ideas that will do that, and how these tools may end up changing these ideas.
3. The worst of the conference was the Spanish politics round table during lunch time on the second day. Jose Rodriguez (@trinitro) has a very critical post about it. Though I don’t agree with everything he says (e.g. “most people at the conference were from political parties or other traditional organizations”), I feel like him. The twittering during the hour it lasted was intense and very, very negative. The best of it was @josechugijon with his “vision de Gijón”, a far too long presentation, but a very good project in the Spanish city of Gijón.
4. Finally, a couple of impressions:
I felt that perhaps the marketeering view of the relation between technology and politics was slightly dominant.
Dominant was also the UK presence. I’ve lived in UK four years, and I still go every two months. British society is perhaps, at this moment, the most advanced in Europe in the use of technology in politics, particularly by civic platforms (e.g. mysociety.org). This, and the use of English as lingua franca may be the reason for this overrepresentation.
Of all the people I liked the most 4 out of 15 were British. The fourteen are: Jérémie Zimmerman (@j_zim), Jack Thurston (@farmsubsidy), Tiago Peixoto (@participatory), Charlie Leadbeater (@wethink), Anthony Hamelle (@anham), Dominique Piotet, Tom Watson (@tom_watson), Ernest Benach (@ebenach), Micah Sifry (@mlsif), Tom Steinberg (@ private tweets), Jose M. Alonso (@josemalonso), Felipe Heusser (@fheusser), Julian Assange, Ellen Miller (@ellnmllr) and Esther Dyson (@edyson). I don’t necessarily agree with everything they said, but they said it well, and it made sense.