Waiting in the Graz Airport Lounge for my delayed flight, looking back on the past few days of PolitCamp Graz I can’t help but write a bit. Proper reflection needs to wait till I am well rested, but first impressions first.
Was PolitCamp a BarCamp?
Yes it was. Even if some people criticized the fact that a couple of slots were preprogrammed, and even though the spaces it took place in were really better geared for full frontal presenting. That the wifi was arranged the way it was (password protected, no SSID broadcasted) is simply working with the IT people at the location. I was grateful that Macs have an easier time getting onto ‘invisible’ wifi, and that the wifi was stable, fast and never faltered. I think that saying that with PolitCamp Graz and a few other events the ‘BarCamp culture in Austria’ is dying is merely an elitist statement, much like we see every time something becomes attractive to a larger group of people and the early adopters start moaning. Fact is if you want to attract at least some new people into the format, especially representatives from the rather ossified Austrian political structures, you will have to do some expectation management beforehand. Like printing something that looks like a programme, even although you know reality will be different on-site. Otherwise it would have been an echo-chamber discussion. The very same thing a lot were finding fault with in the local political sphere. Pot, kettle, black, you get it. And you can bet this format was a culture shock to quite some people attending already.
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Signs of BarCamp
Organization
Taking the BarCamp format and use it within the higher education setting in Austria takes a bit of courage I’d say. The students of Heinz Wittenbrink, his colleagues, and Heinz himself pulled of an inspiring event, that hopefully creates some spin-off within the FH Joanneum. Experiencing that having exchanges in an informal setting can be a great learning experience, and is indeed very real work, is extremely valuable. Taking away preformed structures from an event is liberating. Preparing for such an event is hard work, because taking away preformed structures does not mean that the event will take its course all by it self. If you look closely these types of events are much more heavily managed and structured than they look. Just not in those places, instances and roles, we’ve come to expect it in other events. Many thanks therefore to all those who helped PolitCamp happen.
Heinz and Boris managing the creative chaosPolitCamp Posse!
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Some of those involved in making it all happen. Thanks!
Politicians
Christoph Chorherr (Austrian Green Party) presence was one of the highlights of the event. He actively participated both days. His personal drive was very much visible, his party politics never got in the way. Other politicians ‘flew in’ for one session only. Lisa Rücker, the Graz deputy mayor, also Green party, was frank and honest about her limited knowledge of everything internet and web2.0 (not knowing the URL of her blog, asking what is ‘a facebook’), as well as the fact that her blog is just there because she’s a public figure. That same honesty and transparancy however is visible in her blog writing as well. You may question, or teasingly ridicule, the lack of personal passion and knowledge behind it, but certainly not her style of execution which is for real. Toni Vukan (Socialist party) was an example of the complete opposite. Describing the internet as something that ‘can be an important information medium if it were properly controlled’ (as Helge remarked, 3 misassumptions in that one sentence right there). Because right now the internet is ‘full of liars’ you know.
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Opposite attitudes: Toni Vukan (left), Christoph Chorherr (right, pic by Helge)
I did not mind the provocative tone though, even if not my style. What I thought was really bad was his approach to the discussion. First painting the audience as ‘uncritical internet embracers’, then saying most internet users are trolls anyway, before proceeding to argue against that uncritical attitude and trolls is just making straw man arguments. When he was called on it he pretended he was being treated unfair and ‘refused to be portrayed as being against the internet’. Trying to only let discussion take place under conditions exclusively set by yourself is simply a cheap trick to make sure you won’t have to challenge your own assumptions. It has nothing to do with real communication, if I’ve got what little I know from Habermas right. I left, as I am not part of the Austrian political realm anyway I thought getting into the discussion wouldn’t have been of help. I returned in time though to hear him say at the end that ‘the internet is very important but we must not forget the importance of personal contact’. And corny pictures of party leaders hugging elderly women in retirement homes served to illustrate that personal contact. Rrrrright. I’ve been online daily for most of 2 decades now, and to me internet has always been about personal contact. Using internet for unilaterally broadcasting information and crappy communication efforts really is a more recent invention by the smug and self-satisfied likes of Toni Vukan himself. Can you tell it pissed me off?
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Michaela Mojzis, and a list of OeVP internet efforts
An interesting discussion was had when Michaela Mojzis joined the group and talked about the efforts of the OeVP on the web. I was shocked by her description of her busy schedule. Six to eight hours of e-mail per day, and a rigid monotone week schedule dictated mostly by the never ending rhythm of how both government and press work. I’d hate the type of week she’s having. After e-mail takes up most of her time, other internet efforts however get attention. (See photo with list). You can tell the OeVP is really trying to grok it all, taking coders on board and building apps themselves. Making her take-aways explicit (and good ones at that) was another sign of willingness to explore and learn while staying focussed on your primary goals. What ensued was a lively discussion on the role of internet in politics between all present, without party politics getting in the way much. Really enjoyed that one. She and her colleague also stayed on for the evening party, continuing the conversations with participants.
Hospitality
The event attracted quite a bit of sponsoring and it showed. The food and drinks available during both days were well appreciated. And it was really our own fault that we ate too little before the party at the end of the first day. The discussion still going on was just worth it, even if it was hard on me the next morning. I was also happy to get to know the monochrom art group, and enjoyed their performance a lot which was fun, witty and intelligent. Sipping one last beer and some antipasti with part of the organizing crew on a sunny roofterrace in the old city center of Graz was a nice way to end the event. And on top of it all, I got to enjoy the hospitality of Heinz Wittenbrink and his family in his home. It made it a very pleasurable experience, getting to know eachother bettter and being able to talk about some more topics as well.
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Party announcement on paper wiki, and chilling after the event at M1
Links
As can be expected a load of stuff is available on-line. Most of it in German though as was the whole event. Good starting points are the event blog and wiki, my Flickr pics, and those of others, the Slideshare-space, and the blog of Heinz, Jochen, Michael, Julian. Also I did some live streaming at the party (since they had open wifi there) with Qik from my phone. There are a couple of other posts I will be writing about PolitCamp too.

2 thoughts on “First Reflections on PolitCamp Graz

  1. Ton: That sounds very interesting. I enjoyed your coverage of Vukan – I have the impression you don’t anger easily so he must have been quite a character!

  2. Ton, it was great meeting you there, I totally agree with your thoughts about “networked life – networked work”, for me they will be the source for my next presentations. Thanks.

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