Opening Show: Elevate Open Everything?
Thursday, 24 October 2013
The scene is set: a hollowed cave, buried deep in the bosom of an Austrian mountain. Darkness ripples over the crowd, already kept waiting. The subterranean envelops us, the atmosphere increasingly oppressive, like we are trapped in the underground volcano lair of one of the more flamboyant Bond villains. The compacted earth above and around us vibrates with the bass thrum of expectant conversation, then... David Charles blogs about the events of the Elevate Festival.
WEDNESDAY, 23 OCT 20:00 - 22:00 Dom Im Berg
The scene is set: a hollowed cave, buried deep in the bosom of an Austrian mountain. Darkness ripples over the crowd, already kept waiting. The subterranean envelops us, the atmosphere increasingly oppressive, like we are trapped in the underground volcano lair of one of the more flamboyant Bond villains. The compacted earth above and around us vibrates with the bass thrum of expectant conversation, then...
A spaceman bounds onto stage, dressed in a full service-issue orange space suit, complete with fish bowl space helmet, clumpy boots and "irritating" gloves. "How can we make things truly open? How can we get people to support each other?" Johannes Grenzfurthner yells out (once his helmet has been ripped off). "These are the answers that I want from Elevate. Otherwise, in two hours, I will go to Kazakhstan, enter this space rocket and leave planet Earth. After all, the outfit is pretty cool."
Johannes' field of investigation is context hacking: how can you get people interested in things, when everyone thinks they already know everything? His answer, evidentally, is by bounding onto stage dressed in what must be an impossibly sweaty space suit and asking naive, difficult, honest questions to some of the world's most prominent political activists about why he shouldn't just bugger off to the moon. It's compelling.
Ann Cotten serves up the literary entrée to the festival, appropriately reading from a smartphone, head down. "Mass speech is cheap speech," she says, "so if you have the power of speech, use it well."
Thomas Lohninger and Michael Bauer recently organised a mass protest against data storage in Austria. "Your telephone company knows who you are, where you are, who you call, who you text - what you text - everything. Corporations and the government now know more about us and our behaviour than we know ourselves! And apparently we're not allowed to do anything about that." They'll be discussing data retention on Thursday in Is an Open Society a Free Society?
One person who has challenged the legality of this surveillance is Anne Roth. Six years ago, Anne was surveilled for a year by the BKA (the German investigative police) because her friend was suspected to be a terrorist. "Encryption used in a proper way is the only thing that helps," Ann says. "I believe it is important to become aware of these things - not to push them away. For many things, there is probably nothing that I can do, but it is important that I take some steps."
You can hear more from Ann Roth on Thursday in the session Open Everything and at her Saturday workshop, Me and My Shadow ), which will try to help people understand where we leave little traces on the net and how we can protect ourselves.
Mimu was next on stage, with a human experiment called "Instant Quiet". First she handed out newspapers to the audience ("The stage is too big for one person alone.") and told us to tear out a strip each. Then we are to read out our text, starting at volume zero (no voice) and building to volume ten (shouting as loud as we can). Mimu holds the stage like a conductor, yelling out numbers - "Five!" - and the cave echoes like the rumbling of a bar on a Friday after work - "Ten!" - the cave becomes an Olympic stadium, boiling with passion - "Zero!" - orchestral silence.
Tom Scott, comedian and activist, imagines a dystopian future where a (fictional) British MP gets into trouble when his iLife (an indexed and searchable video and audio memory) gets hacked and he's spotted paying for sex in a brothel. Not a great look for an MP. And, by the way, if you think this all seeing iLife sounds improbable, then remember Facebook is less than ten years old.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an MP for the Icelandic Pirate Party ("An anarchist in a political party?!"), tells us: "I love crisis; crisis is the only time we can change things. But in Iceland we discovered that if you don't act fast, it can slip away." Then she turns to the audience and appeals to us. "I want to hear from you - where do you want to see this planet in a hundred years, in fifty years, in twenty years?"
Johannes interupts: "Some people will say I'll be dead, I don't give a shit."
"Some people care more for others than for themselves."
Christian Winkler and Birgit Pölzl introduce us to the HoergeREDE, a festival within the festival, working with text, sound and discourse. "We are being surveilled and disciplined and we don't even notice. Even when we protest, we protest nicely. Art is where we are not disciplined, where we are not functionalised and where we become empowered."
"We have the internet in Africa," Marion Walton says, "but many people don't have the money to pay for the connection." In Friday's discussion Democratising Networked Communication , she'll be asking: "What can we do without the internet and with a phone?" This is a discussion "for people who want to reconfigure the network for everyone, not just for the 1% - or even the 10%."
Sam Muirhead tells Johannes that he shouldn't go to Kazakhstan but to Copenhagen, where a couple of guys are currently building an open source spaceship.
Johannes goes straight back on the offensive, brandishing his presentation remote control: "Take my Logitech clicker - there's probably one dead person behind this! How can I do this?"
"There are a number of initiatives trying to deal with this," Sam tells us. "There's a project in France to make semiconductors from everyday materials, from things you can find in the supermarket. And the crowdfunded Fairphone project, which is trying to make a smartphone using non-conflict materials." Sam will share more on Saturday, in the session on Self-determined Production.
The 2013 Elevate Opening Speech is delivered by Jacob Appelbaum, a man who could have been cast as uber-geek "Q" in our Bond film - if he hadn't been exiled to Germany because the US authorities think he's a terrorist. "For states, openess means that our lives are an open book. But for us, there is a different level of openess." There is a fuller description of his speech here.
Finally, Johannes brings to the stage two of the co-organisers, Daniel Erlacher and Bernhard Steirer. They thank us and direct us to Open Elevate on Sunday, where everyone can contribute to the discussion, by bringing their own festival topics become part of the programme. Daniel reminds us that entry to the discourse programme is entirely free - although you can snack away on the Elevate Awards prize money by buying a E3 motivational chocolate!
The last action of what must have been a very sweaty night for a spaceman, is Johannes confirming what we knew all along: the Elevate programme is awesome.
"I will remain here!" he wails and, with that, clunks offstage.
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