Public Service Announcement [Interlude]

myWeek (s4e21)


I’m in New York. The Lower East Side to be more specific. It is sort of work as I am here for the Personal Democracy Forum (on my own dime lest anyone think mySociety is splashing the cash!) but it is also New York — the only place on the planet I love almost as much as Bristol.

I’m still pretty scared of flying — like public speaking it is something I do in spite of the fear these days and the excitement of being in NYC never lessens.

According to my Withings step tracker gadget I average 6,000 ish steps on a Wednesday. This week I did 26,000! I wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan and Upper Brooklyn search for graffiti all morning and then spent a couple of hours at MoMA in the afternoon (with a silly detour to the new Amazon bookstore!). I navigated by half remembered snippets of rap lyrics and movie plots rather than Google Maps and just enjoyed being in the city.

Like the t-shirts say: I *heart* New York.

Doesn’t hurt that the food is so good either.

I’ve wanted to attend PDF (yep I know!) for years. It is pretty much the civic tech conference and many people I have admired for years have spoken at it in the decade plus it has been running.

It was an intense experience if I am honest. I am really bad at shifting to local time when I switch a few time zones and 2 days of heavy conferencing from 9–6 (with a networking reception in the middle) really took its toll.

It might have been easier if the General Election didn’t massively exceed expectations leading to a long night and morning of sweating the results. Maybe not though. The speakers were uniformly great — well rehearsed, charismatic and passionate. They were though, and I’ll use this word again, intense. It was not a conference for the dilettante! It was also more ‘civic’ than ‘tech’ and about as far from non-partisan as I can imagine.

There were all manner of amazing talks though — I found once I tuned into it more as a TED style edutainment type event I enjoyed it much more. Some highlights:

  • Mark being one of the opening speakers and positioning mySociety front and centre with this movement
  • An Xiao Mina talking about how digital culture and memes was showing up increasingly as a part of protest artefacts (signs, tees, hats)
  • Jessy Tolkan giving a personal and passionate talk where she introduced me to the idea of ‘post-traumatic growth’.
  • The amazing Jose Antonio Vargas on being the ‘most famous illegal immigrant in America.’
  • Audrey Tang wowing the audience with tales from the future (well Taiwan!)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand dropping the ‘f-bomb’ and displaying a real gift for engaging with an audience and making powerful points.
  • Rapi Castillo talking about the Progressive Coders Network, open source and how stomach flu changed his life.
  • Derecka Mehrens speaking about unionising the service workers in Silicon Valley and getting tech workers to support them.
  • Malkia Cyril on the topic of police brutality toward African Americans and the need for white ‘allies’ to stand up and do more.
  • Aria Finger gave a brilliant talk on the ups and downs of engaging openly with a huge audience of young people at DoSomething.org
  • Finishing with Sen. Cory Booker giving a blistering speech about the injustices facing poor communities in America. This is a guy who is going to run for President some day.

I attended only one of the panel sessions but it was a great one on the challenge of bringing more technologists into Government and non-profits and the challenges that presents. Pretty on topic for me! Was great to listen to Erie Meyer in person as well as she was one of the driving forces behind USDS and I’m a big fan of all they did there.

In work news Andre launched yesterday. It was a partnership with Facebook where we supplied the data (and support) so they could let everyone in the UK know their new MP — and all their other representatives down to Councillors and allow them to follow them. I was barely involved in the project but it was a hardcore gig with serious time pressures and included much manual intervention. There are of course privacy concerns as ever with Facebook but on this occasion I/we believe the ability to engage with that many people was an opportunity not to be missed.

Jumping on a train to Coney Island in a bit — the weather is much improved today so suspect I will be seeking air-con pretty sharpish once I get there.

Get back to Blighty Monday and look forward to see if there is any political infrastructure still left standing!


Listening: Biggie and a little Beasties (I am in New York after all.)

Reading: Given up on Walkaway for a bit — started Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World by James Ball instead.

Watching: Wonder Woman. Watch it. You won’t regret it. I’d forgotten DC/Warner could make a decent superhero movie. Gal Gadot is brilliant and the portrayal of Diana is spot on. As if someone actually cared.