dConstruct ’13

Last year was the first time I attended dConstruct and at a time when I was feeling particularly drained and despondent about my career choices it gave me a shot in the arm that at least kept me going until Christmas – which was pretty amazing considering where I was mentally at the time.

I am in nothing like as dark a place with my current job as I was 12 months ago but there is no doubt I appreciated the opportunity for another dose of inspiration as there are significant challenges ahead and I need to get myself in the right mindset to tackle them.

Once again the event delivered on its promise. I don’t think all the talks were as good as last year but it had some serious high points and I have certainly never laughed so much at a ‘digital’ conference.

I’m not going to write about all the talks – I’m sure many people will plus all the videos will be online soon. These are just a couple of my highlights.

Amber Case kicked things off. A ‘cyber anthropologist’ she gave a fun and personal trip through the history of the wearable technology movement and particularly the power of location technology and devices to make to ‘real world’ an interactive space. It was a fun talk but the anecdote that really struck me was that she once spent three months filling in a 15 minute ‘state of mind’ survey three times a day as part of a research project. At the end of it she was given a report which made it clear that she was consistently unhappy at her day job and happiest when working on her side project. This was despite the fact she was regularly telling people she enjoyed the job. She was fooling herself (if nobody else) and it gave her the confidence to quit and take the risk on the work that made her happy. There is certainly something in that.

Nicole Sullivan gave a talk about ‘not feeding the trolls’ which was interesting but felt weirdly divorced from the (many) conversations that have been going on in the UK about the same topic recently. There were a couple of gems within it though; the Yahoo mailing list that was so harsh nobody risked asking a question for fear of the response (for Bristolians that sounds like Underscore to me!), the ‘taxonomy’ of Trolls and in particular the ‘Grammar Nazi’ raised a smile from me – I know a couple of people who fall in to this definition. She also acknowledged that so much of the troll problem was tied in to sexism – though she was also aware she herself showed elements of sexism in her own behaviour (her inner-troll).

The next two talks fell in to the performance art area really even if they were technology based. Simone Rebaudengo gave a remarkable talk about a parallel universe in which products were not owned but ‘hosted’ according to those who demonstrated the most need and care for them. The whole ‘toaster as a service’ narrative was hilarious and wonderfully done. I have no idea really what point it was trying to make but nevertheless I enjoyed it.

Sarah Angliss gave a fascinating whirlwind of a talk covering the history of music and machine interactions and how it effects the world. At times it felt like some kind of stream of consciousness lecture for music history PhDs but it was certainly engrossing and her final performance (including robots, a theremin and other contraptions) was a sight, and sound, to behold.

Maciej Cegtowski gave my talk of the day about the transformative power of fandom and ‘slash’ fiction. It was a wildly entertaining talk touching on the birth of fanfic and particularly the ‘slash’ element of that (the name of which was born out of the slash in Kirk/Spock which dominated the early years) and how they had embraced the internet and particularly the concept of tags in Delicious to build their community. When Delicious relaunched and immediately disenfranchised this huge community Maciej looked to tempt them over to Pinboard. This led to the mother of all Google Docs being produced by this community (56 pages!) outlining their specific feature requests (and leading to some slash vic about the project itself!). It has to be said one look at the structure of the tags this community used and the way they approached this document I have to think there is a high percentage of librarians in this community!! I liked the idea that this was like a mirror universe version of the usual anonymous communities online. These guys are self organising, helpful, polite and constructive – so very far from something like YouTube.

Dan Williams is someone I have known on and off for quite a while – he is based in Bristol doing clever, creative technologist type stuff at the Pervasive Media Studio and I was extremely pleased to see him get an opportunity to do his thing on such an illustrious stage. If the previous talk was my favourite this was a close run second. Opening with clips of (very) early magic on film and rushing through cheap Chinese mini-cams, CCTV movie manifestos, trolling National Express, drone technology and terrifying patents for face recognition software and cameras in bars it was insightful, amusing and well delivered and did an especially nice job of looping back to the beginning of the talk in the conclusion. Quality stuff.

Confession time. I really had little idea who Adam Buxton was. I never watched his TV show or listened to his radio show/podcast – turns out I have heard on the odd advert but basically he was a bit of an unknown quantity to me. He gave a fun stand-up performance basically and I certainly did my share of laughing and he kept the energy going right until the end of the day. The whole Twitter rant element seemed a bit ill thought out though given the seriousness of some of the issues around trolling and bullying recently – 10 minutes because someone didn’t like a show as much as they expected? I know its comedy but I thought it was a bit ‘meh’. The kitten with boobs encapsulating the internet was inspired though.

Anyway it was a great day – next year I want to make more of the trip and stay a few days to explore Brighton properly – particularly as nine hours on a train out of 36 hours is no fun.



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