AMC Reflection

Allied Media Conference ButtonI got back from the Allied Media Conference yesterday.  It has been helpful to have gone out of town on the weekends, even though it has also been an impediment to feeling like I’m getting more familiar with the city outside of the default of my routine.  Going away and coming back has reoriented my sense of home from Bloomington to Chicago in a way that probably would have taken much longer otherwise.  As Chiara mentioned as we were coming into the city, the ideas and projects that represent at the AMC seem much more present and possible in Chicago.

This year, as was the case with the conference last year, I came back ambivalent, which is, perhaps the way it should be – that narrow space that is simulatenously “this is amazing and awesome” and ” this is a huge problem that we’re completely ignoring”.  I spent most of my weekend in the Media Lab working on the Supercomputer Build.  The best thing about this was meeting many different people who had visions and ideas for the technology or who identified as “geeks” but didn’t fit into every part of that stereotype.  The only full session that I went to discussed how broadband stimulus funds could be and leveraged in a way that was useful and accountable to communities.  Building computers from parts and installing free/libre/open source software on them felt like the micro version of broader efforts to increase access to technological infrastructure.  The people with the vision were the ones building the machines, and hopefully, with cases off and free software, the platform seemed malleable and responsive to that vision.

My friend Josh said that he felt like more space was made for print media at this year’s conference, but being surrounded by technology it was hard for me to assess that.  There was ample evidence that we were all struggling to make the technology responsive to our activities and human networks rather than the other way around.  The Voces Moviles project is very awesome, giving immigrant workers in LA, many with limited internet acess, access for their stories on a blogging platform via their mobile phones.  However, I was disappointed that, given the limited time in the keynote, they chose to exhbit the platform rather than the stories.  This culminated in a projected IRC channel with tweets, vozmob texts, and IRC chats that ended up seeming very distracting to me.  Also, juxtaposing the vozmob technology with something like twitter is useful for explaining it, but reinforces the idea that FLOSS and community technology hackers are simply trying to recreate commercial technologies instead of trying the address their missing functionality for communities.  Ultimately, the stream of txts and tweets just didn’t seem very articulate.  Detroit MCs Invincible and Sterling had planned to drop freestyle verses being prompted by people’s projected messages in response to the question “what are you ready for?”  Unfortunately, most of the messages were things like “The AMC is so awesome”.  It is hard to condense complicated feelings and ideas into 140 characters on the spot and the  nature of the messages just showed that there’s a great need to assert collective experience and excitement, even when sitting in the same auditorium.  I sat next to some older ladies who proved that snark needn’t be exclusive to my generation.  They were particularly incensed by the projected messages.  Maybe the technology seemed cryptic to them, or maybe it didn’t meet their needs at that moment.  The nice thing about the AMC is that this kind of counterpoint remains present at the conference.

A more successful public use of technology at the keynote was a Skype video chat with an artist/organizer in South Africa.  The connection was shaky at times and it was difficult for the moderator to speak into the PA mic, so the audience could hear it, and also into the computer mic without everything feeding back like crazy.  Still, I think it demonstrated how you can make technology do things it wasn’t exactly designed to do, that doing this doesn’t always go smoothly, but ultimately people can come together to use tools to do cool, useful things.

I’m so glad that I got to be a part of this year’s conference.  Ultimately, the greatest value to me comes not from the session content but from all the people you meet and the threads of conversastion that bring together and blanket the session topics.  Even holed away in the Media Lab I got such a strong sense of that.