Webstock, as I’m sure has been mentioned by many, is the annual “Inspiration Con” in Wellington, New Zealand. This is the second year I’ve been along and it is possibly the most inspirational, thought provoking, edifying entertainment of my year. Maybe high praise, but Webstock delivers.
The Webstock stage
I’m not going to go through a list of the speakers or even really talk about what Webstock is. You can go read the website if you want to know more. I’m going to talk about my take away thoughts, the themes that reared through the conference, and what I’m going to do as a result.
I’ve filled up my notebook at the conference with notes, little drawings, really terrible writing, more notes, and some blank space, and many pages to go. So without further ado I’ll dive in.
I think that the central theme of this year’s Webstock, maybe of every year’s Webstock is looking out and looking big and then bringing that into your everyday life. What can I do to make the internet, my life, my livelihood, and the world a better place.
Let me tell you an inspired story… I start at the end to look back to the beginning. Over 1300 years ago, the oldest business still operating started in the world started in feudal Japan. It’s a family business looking back to look forward. Fast-forward. We live in a world of change. But change can take us backwards. Backwards ethically, not temporally.
Tash: Change can focus us on the few or the many. The individual or the community. The controllers or the controlled. The dictator or the state. Change is not always good.
Cory Doctorow: But change must occur if you believe in a better world. But change isn’t easy. Change is hard, which ever direction it goes.
Nat Cheshire: We attempt to do the best we can, as Nat Cheshire said, “…there is camaraderie to be found in a mutual loneliness.”
So, how do we achieve this change and how do we know that what we strive for is good? What can I, an impotent and insignificant individual, accomplish? Well, self understanding and introspection is a good place to start. Why do you do the things that you do? Do you do them because you feel you should, because you feel obligated? Or do you do them because they are what you must? One way to make change and to do it well is to, by small steps, remove those shoulds and leave time for the musts. Elle Luna
But the world is complex, even if I think introspectively the task seems daunting. Everyone has done it better. In order to bring good into the world we must consider that everything we do is not new, everything under the sun is just combinations, transformations, or copies of what was their before. Everything, in short, is a remix. Kirby Ferguson
So, the question is what do we have at our disposal? What is our tool kit for implementing change? Firstly, we have a set of beliefs about the nature of the world and the values we hold. What is an appropriate action to take depends on those values and our understanding of them. But more important than having them is considering them and challenging their validity. Janet Crawford, Genevieve Bell, Des Traynor, Moxie Marlinspike, and Kim Goodwin
The oldest of the actions we can take is to listen and observe. We listen to what others say, we observe how they say it. We listen and then we change our values. This is how we improve. Arguably, this is all science is in a nutshell - understanding, testing, and refining. Mathew Patterson, Shelley Bernstein, and Honor Harger
Once we have listened and understood we need to pass it on. We need to communicate and make ourselves understood. The words we choose, the words we create influence ourselves and influence others. We speak and are heard. Erin McKean, Jason Webley, and Kate Kiefer Lee
Humans have been speaking, observing, and attempting to listen for millennia. But it’s only within the last few years that technology has given us the ability to quantify, to quantify all the time, to let data inform our observations. To provide an additional set of factors that don’t rely on the frailty of human thoughts and biases. Collecting the right data helps us understand what we are listening to. Nicholas Felton and Harper Reed
The ability to consume information only gets us so far, and writing or speaking about it only takes us so far. A medium that connects are people needs something more that hard text and data. It needs motifs and designs that help others to be informed by what has been done. We need to make to provide that information in understandable ways all the time. Welcome to the real world… cough sorry… the web! Frank Chimero, Kris Sowersby, and Derek Featherstone
This has all become very self-centric. Learning, understanding, speaking, and making. It’s not good in its own right. It’s only good if it does the rest of the world, the community in which you live, a service. Sometimes that may be implicit by what you do. For the rest of us, as Brad Frost says, “it’s not about what you do, but rather what you enable others to do.” Give it away, make it public. Make your community better, make the world a better place. Brad Frost
And 1300 years later, the cycle of change continues. We listen, we learn, we measure, we speak, we make, and we give away. If we are very lucky the world in which we live is left just a little bit better for our presence on it.
I hope this little story has not lost all subtlety and nuance. If it has please forgive me. Either way there is more to learn and I’ll be back at Webstock next year.