Oh hack

Last week, I went to a symposium, hosted by Third Ear called ‘Commissioning and Philanthropy in the Digital age’. A tweet from my former tutor, the curious Jo Lee, and confirmation that Daniel Jones, of The Listening Machine fame, was speaking encouraged me to take a punt on a ticket.

Time for small confession: I was once addicted to conferences. Throughout university, I not only attended my compulsory lectures, but I boarded a train once a week to go back to Sheffield and participate in their lecture programme for fine artists, too (it was a great programme, and there I encountered my first intellectual crush) and I attended a few tangentially relevant conferences, and was asked numerous times what ‘my paper’ was on.

Looking back, I learned lots of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I was stimulated intellectually. I had a thirst for hearing people talk about their own practices, experiences and theories. There are worse things to be addicted to!

More recent experience, however, has called my former devotion to the conference format into question. I’ve certainly been to conference events that I consider substandard – Vamps, Vixens and Feminists is the one this year that was enraging – but I also wonder if this reflects changing circumstances.

It’s true to say that these days I seem as interested in people as I am in ideas, so it’s no longer enough to listen to some interesting case studies – I also want to make connections. Being essentially a shy creature, the easiest way for me to meet people is through conversation and so there’s something frustrating about the lecture style: it isn’t discursive enough. I’ve also enjoyed making connections at conference events through twitter – a hash tag for the day is a great thing. So it’s strange, for me, to attend a symposium with ‘digital’ in the title that doesn’t employ a hash tag.

It’s also clear that I’m more willing to embrace chaos or disorder as a way of learning and making connections: there is considerable value in the chance conversation over coffee, in determining an agenda by committee at the top of the day (and then perhaps winging it anyway). This was demonstrated to me recently at my first culture hack, where I learned loads but moreover, met lots of interesting people – Stef, Doris, Marion, Eric, Clare and Rachel to name a few – and came away feeling stimulated to a greater extent than I did at any of those earlier conferences.

So, rather than a conference bash, this post instead is a big up to the hack: to committing to something without knowing where it will go; to being open about skills, expectations and data; to meeting new people with an enquiring mind; to collaborating with strangers; to working problems through energetically and imaginatively; to proving concepts quickly and messily; to saying yes.


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