[iDC] The Social Machine of Events

Saul Albert saul at twenteenthcentury.com
Thu Feb 2 09:25:43 EST 2006

In fear of providing more grist for the mill-gristing mill, I have a
couple of quickies which I'd like to throw in:

Speaking of the pre-distribution of papers, Stanisaw Lem 's
'Futurological Congress' contains this this marvellous section where he
describes how academic conferences work in the vastly overpopulated

All 4000 delegates are given the entire preceedings of the conference
beforehand, including question and answer sessions remotely transcribed,
The transcriptions are marked up with a paper number, paragraph numbers,
question numbers, answer numbers. The delegates mount the stage, and
annunciate the paragraph numbers, as expressively as possible. The
questioners then duly stand and read out the line numbers of their
questions, which are then pre-answered in the same fashion. All the
drama, with none of the time-wasting.

Adam, I also attended, and was in partially involved in organising the
Open Congress (http://opencongress.omweb.org) in October this year -
along with several other events that took the shared title 'Open Season'
(http://nodel.org/october.php) and were a preliminary round of
discussions ostensibly in preparation for the Node London season of media
arts due to take place in London in March '06 (check http://nodel.org for
more on that). 

This October Open Season, which Marc also attended, was a real mash-up of
formats and initiatives, from the slick 'Future Wireless' event at the
Science Museum in prestigious West London, organised by Cybersalon
(http://www.cybersalon.org/future_wireless/), to the hacker activist
freak gathering in a delapidated ex-civic building in the last corner of
unregenerated East End that was the World Summits on Free Information
Infrastructures (http://wsfii.org). While these two events in October had
fairly clear formats and more or less pragmatic management mechanisms,
only Open Congress, being more self-indulgently speculative, really
sucked hard on the crack pipe of openness (as Jamie King calls it). The
results were strange and powerful and probably extremely confusing -
pulling in many reference points and shambling along with a diffuse and
sincerely meant committment to consensual and reflexive processes. The
Open Congress was miraculous in that it actually happened: people came,
talked, exchanged, paid too much for entry or nothing at all. It was
scattershot in the extreme - but a really interesting experiment in that,
in it's own (partially self-aware) delusional state of minds, it was
actually malleable in ways that superficial 'format' approaches - are
not. I mean that the budget, the processes, the invitees, how much people
got paid, who got flown to London, where people stayed, who got invited -
was all up for discussion and the subject of collective neurotic anxiety
from the very first, even if these 'freedoms' were circumscribed by
institutional agreements (which if you ask me, were just as chaotic and
self-defeating as the process itself). Is it clear that I thought it was
successful? Maybe 'success' doesn't really mean much in this context. The
process was anyway - I have no idea about the outcome, I think I was
semi-comatose form exhaustion throughout October and didn't really

In fact, there were lots of really interesting experiments last October
in London - I'm trying to write my experiences down at the moment, and
there's going to be a NODE.London reader edited by Marina Vishmidt and
print-on-demand published by OpenMute which will document all of the
October events - along with copyleft media etc.. as you suggest Adam
(WSFII's was up the following day :). 

In other related news, Jo Walsh and Rufus Pollock are going to give a
presentation about WSFII entitled 'How to Hack a Conference' at the
O'Reilly emerging technology shindig in San Diego this March. If any of
you are local and able to stomach the sleazy sponsorship arrangements and
stump up the outrageous entry fee, perhaps you'll find it interesting.



More information about the iDC mailing list