Dear Wellington, let’s make some babies

Ah, Wellington, where a barista serves coffee to a cashless newcomer with “just pay us later”, op shops have natural-fibre clothes to fit women of long length, and an annual conference exemplifies and amplifies goodness.

I was there primarily to attend the National Digital Forum 2012 and – thrill! – to present on Sembl. It was a wonderful new experience to be on stage early in a conference program – and in a plenary session – because in the breaks, conversations had already started. I didn’t need to perform repeated, monologic self-introductions – and nor did my interlocutors; there was space among the already-started conversation to explore where they were coming from too.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that. For me, sustaining social openness for the duration of a multi-day event – which is critical, because that interpersonal flow is the source of the magic – feels strenuous. Anything that makes the flow flow more easily is like a full lung of fresh air.

Wonderfully, NDF is in general very conducive to such flow. The organisers do a brilliant job of creating a space in which good things can happen. There’s a lovely collegial vibe, and plenty of social events for folks that don’t know folks. And if you don’t know the way to a venue, Courtney will draw you a map:

directions to Hooch bar, Wellington, New Zealand

From the Comfort Hotel via the bucket fountain to the Hooch bar

So many interesting conversations… fuelled by such passionate and thoughtful presentations:

Chris McDowall presenting on a large screen his clusters of algorithmically-cropped faces of WWI soldiers

Chris McDowall zooming in on his clusters of algorithmically-cropped faces of WWI soldiers

Sarah Barns presenting Italo Calvino's description of the

Sarah Barns’ augmented city projects are great. I liked her quote of Italo Calvino on the city’s “relationships between the measurements of space and the events of its past”.

Nate Solas presenting a large-screen image of the long tail of cat videos

Nate Solas visualising the long tail of cats: the enduring value of cat videos for web visitors to the Walker Art Center

NDF was beautiful and thrilling; so much care, absolutely cynicism-free.

Despite being fairly spent, I trundled myself off the following day to join in the heady fun of THATCamp Wellington. Which was also awesome – thanks, Donelle and Sydney & co. Tim’s workshop was ‘smashing’ 😉 Also very useful was the session on linked open data; it gave me more clarity about the authority, provenance and reciprocity of said links:

notes on the authority, provenance and reciprocity of linked data

Notes from the discussion of linked data: on authority, provenance and reciprocity

(For those that don’t know, I have a special interest in reciprocal linked data.)

In the breaks, there were plenty more compelling conversations to be enjoyed, including a very useful pointer from musicologist, Francis Yapp, to Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor. I can now appreciate the fugue musically as well as mentally!

But I failed, actually, to put as much energy into THATCamp as I’d have liked. I devoted most of my energy to NDF and then limped through the day that was meant to be all about action.

So as a homage to both NDF and THATCamp, and in lieu of completing a THATCamp evaluation form, I wrote a fantasy for a more integrated and even more flow-y NDF-meets-THATCamp experience, where more of the threads dangling tantalisingly at both forums could be tugged, if you so chose, and twisted and woven into a few amazing new things. I offer these thoughts without expectation, and with hope that whether NDF maintains its current, beautiful form or evolves, we can sustain it as it sustains us.

And dear reader, please know that I have co-opted real people into this fantasy without their knowledge or consent. They may not actually want to do these things. You are all, of course, are welcome to respond with your own ideas, adaptations, augmentations, even refutations.

§

Imagine.

The two-day National Digital Forum is extended to a three-day digital festival culminating in a THATCampy makerspace, with an optional extra post-festival morning of relaxation and celebration. NDF has some practical outcomes, and THATCamp has an inspiring lead-in and opportunity to develop some collective vision.

Day 1 is the plenary, and comprises a couple of keynotes, several short plenary presentations and a bunch of ignite talks. So there’s a whole day where everyone can see everything on offer.

Day 2 is for parallel sessions. There are two streams: one is for preplanned, interactive show-and-tell. The other is for action-planning workshops driven by the wishes of the participants and facilitated by the likes of:

  • Chris McDowall, Mitchell Whitelaw and Tim Wray – beautiful visual browsing
  • Tim Sherratt and Michael Lascarides – really simple RDF, aka beautiful data storytelling
  • Sarah Barns – augmented Te Papa?
  • Aaron Straup Cope – some strangely but simply useful tool or other
  • maybe even Walter Logeman – a Semblified, Jungian, group dream analysis

By the end of Day 2, we have some plans for action the following day.

Day 3 is a makerspace, for making as per the plans from the two days prior, and for documenting the making. Huzzah! And/or you can do one or more preplanned workshops with the likes of:

  • Ponoko
  • someone who can make artisinal QR codes
  • a website-builder
  • someone with social media smarts

The final session is the morning of Day 4. It’s for unwinding and reflecting, and awarding *prizes* for the most effective work.

In amongst it all, there are other options for engaging, such as:

  • a kind of digital maker faire or pop-up museum – an assemblage of digital or digitally-augmented or digitally-designed displays showing everything from Tim’s experiment in richly contextualised HTML to Emily’s Little Slide Dress to an array of Ponoko-printed or lasercut physical objects.
  • as a conversation kickstarter, an array of named faces of all the delegates, where each face is a link to a short video of that person introducing themselves and their particular passions for digital work. (The point here is to give any delegate that wants it a voice, including those not on the program to speak. For speakers it could be a channel for an alternative abstract, and for everyone it’s an aide mémoire, a way to name-check those who you really should remember but can’t because your brain is so full right now.)
  • some spare screens anyone can use to load up a site as it emerges in conversation
  • an excursion to a nearby art museum likely to be ‘doing good shit’
  • a game of Sembl – either using Te Papa exhibits or the faces of delegates as nodes

And there is yoga or Shiva dancing or cartwheeling – Jiu-jitsu or otherwise. We need to involve our bodies in our thinking!

As a whole, the experience would be expansive – as it is – but also active, directed by a collective vision, resolute, convergent. Our collective energy could manifest in physical–digital form.

Another way of saying all this might be: let’s make some *babies* with all this love 🙂

2 thoughts on “Dear Wellington, let’s make some babies

  1. Pingback: NDF 2012 – How do you make something brilliant even better? | digitalGLAM

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