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Recap: Unconf19

This was a special one. We’re just coming back from hosting the very first ThingsCon Unconf in Berlin – and just like it’s tag line, it truly was a System Reboot – on many levels.

Pretty much exactly five years after the very first ThingsCon took place in Berlin in 2014, we gathered a small and intimate crowd of friends, practitioners, artists, researchers, and designers to take a step back, and launch a new chapter for ThingsCon. Less conference, more open space; less tech, more systems; less people, more time. And moving on from a hardware and more narrow focus on IoT, this time we broaden our perspective to ask some big, open, and quite ambitious questions: What alternative economic models does contemporary tech make possible? What could alternative futures look like in out homes, cities, and offices? What are the opportunities and challenges that come with these alternative futures? And what does this mean for us, today, in our jobs, for our skills and our roles?

Challenging questions, that led to equally challenging discussions: After a short framing from the ThingsCon Team – and a to-the-point opening talk by Alek Tarkowski on Openness, Regulation and the EU, we spent the day working in smaller groups on a broad range of subjects. Topics included Public IoT and governing urban commons, Trust and Security in IoT, New and alternative economic models, speculative urban spaces and, many more. We explored the potential of silent revolutions (rather than tabula rasa, quick changes) in making business in a more sustainable and responsible way. We looked at how we as tech and design workers can take a stand politically (through trustworthy products, business models, systemic architecture, and professional choices). We collected examples for „Anti-Exploitation Design“, products that fight surveillance and non-consensual practices in the home and the city (including a great Input on GDPR-compliant face recognition by @Tamberg). And we imagined a city full of moving houses as speculative space for „Fluid Living“ (finding out that when it comes to collective decision making for public spaces, Human / Machine / Hybrid processes are extremely challenging to agree on and argue for.

The big take away from this day, however, was not mainly the insights from those sessions – which given how complex the questions were set, too often scratch the surface still, of the complexity they entail. The take away was the chance and the time to meet new people, form new alliances, re-establish there is a great, diverse, and incredibly dedicated community out there that continues the hard work of re-thinking the (tech) world we are all working in, and aiming to take a stand toward a more human future. And while the Unconf marked the continuation of this work – there’s still a lot to do for all of us. It turned out that once again, the challenges is really in framing and understanding the problem in all its messiness, before we dive into solutions. And that while tech and the IoT are powerful tools to move ahead, deciding where to go and why is the real task for all of us. Or, as Cedric Price put it:

Technology is the answer, but what was the Question?

This event was the partner event to ThingsCon Nairobi in 2017. Both events were supported by Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).