Heinz Wittenbrink, who teaches content strategy at the FH Joanneum in Graz, reflected extensively on his participation in our recent Smart Stuff That Matters unconference.
We go back since 2006 (although I think we read each others blog before), when we first met at a BarCamp in Vienna. Later Heinz kindly invited me to Graz at several occasions such as the 2008 Politcamp (a barcamp on web 2.0 and political communication), and the 2012 annual conference of the Austrian association for trainers in basic education for adults.

He writes in German, and his blogpost contains a lot to unpack (also as it weaves the history of our interaction into his observations), so I thought I’d highlight and translate some quotes here. This as I find it rather compelling to read how someone, who’s been involved in and thinking about online interaction for a long time, views the event we did in the context of his and my work. And that some of what I’m trying to convey as fundamental to thinking about tools and interaction is actually coming across to others. Even if I feel that I’ve not yet hit on the most compelling way to formulate my ideas.

Heinz starts with saying he sees my approach as a very practice oriented one.
“Ton engages on a very practical level with the possibilities of combining the personal and personal relationships with the wider contexts in which one lives, from the local community to global developments. He has a technical, pragmatic and practice oriented approach. Also he can explain to others who are not part of a digital avantgarde what he does.”

And then places the birthday unconferences we did in that context, as an extension of that practice oriented approach. Something I realise I didn’t fully do myself.

“The unconference of last week is an example of how one can do things from a highly personal motivation – like meeting friends, talking about topics you’re interested in, conversing about how you shape your new daily routines after a move – and make it easy for others to connect to that. What you find or develop you don’t keep for yourself, but is made useful for others, and in turn builds on what those others do. So it’s not about developing an overarching moral claim in a small context , but about shaping and networking one’s personal life in such a way that you collectively expand your capabilities to act. Ton speaks of networked agency. Digital networking is a component of these capabilities to act, but only embedded in networks that combine people, as well as locations and technical objects.”

Speaking about the unconference he says something that really jumps out at me.

To list the themes [….of the sessions I attended…] fails to express what was special about the unconference: that you meet people or meet them again, for whom these themes are personal themes, so that they are actually talking about their lives when they talk about them. At an unconference like this one does not try to create results that can be broadcast in abstracted formulations, but through learning about different practices and discussing them, extend your own living practice and view it from new perspectives. These practices or ways of living cannot be separated from the relationships in which and with which you live, and the relationships you create or change at such an event like this.

Seeing it worded like that, that the topics we discussed, theorised about, experimented around, are very much personal topics, and in the context of personal relationships, hits me as very true. I hadn’t worded it in quite that way myself yet. This is however exactly why to me digital networks and human networks are so similar and overlapping, and why I see your immediate context of an issue, you and your meaningful relationships as the key unit of agency. That’s why you can’t separate how you act from your relationships. And why the layeredness of household, neighbourhood, city, earth is interwoven by default, just often not taken into account, especially not in the design phase of technology and projects.

Heinz then talks about blogging, and our earlier silent assumptions that novel technology would as per default create the right results. Frank’s phrasing and Heinz’s mention of the ‘original inspiration’ to blog resonate with me.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the people I had the most intensive conversations with have been blogging for a long time. They all stuck with the original inspiration to blog. Frank in his presentation called it “to publish your own unedited voice”. The openness but also the individuality expressed in this formulation was clearly visible in the entire unconference.

For me blogging was a way of thinking out loud, making a life long habit of note taking more public. The result was a huge growth in my professional peer network, and I found that learning in this networked manner accelerated enormously. Even if my imagined audience when I write is just 4 or 5 of people, and I started blogging as a personal archive/reflection tool, I kept doing it because of the relationships it helped create.

Continuing on about the early techno-optimism Heinz says about the unconference

The atmosphere at the unconference was very different. Of the certainties of the years shortly after 2000 nothing much remains. The impulses behind the fascination of yesteryear do remain however. It’s not about, or even less about technology as it was then, it’s about smart actions in themselves, and life under current conditions. It’s about challenging what is presented as unavoidable more than producing unavoidability yourself.

Only slowly I understand that technologies are much deeper embedded in social practices and can’t be separated from them. Back then I took over Ton’s concept of ‘people centered navigation’. Through the event last week it became clearer to me what this concept means: not just a ‘right’ efficient way to use tools, but a practice that for specific needs deliberately selects tools and in doing so adapts them.

People centered navigation is not a component of better more efficient mass media, but navigating information in reference to needs and capabilities of people in localised networks. Where above all the production of media and content in dialogue with a limited number of others is relevant, not its reception by the masses. Network literacies are capabilities to productively contribute to these localised networks.

Just like practice is inseparable from our relationships, our tools are inseparable from our practices. In networked agency, the selection of tools (both technology and methods) is fully determined by the context of the issue at hand and the group of relationships doing it. As I tried to convey in 2010 in my Maker Households keynote at SHiFT and indeed at the earlier mentioned keynote I gave at Heinz’s university on basic literacy in adult learning, networked literacies are tied to your personal networks. And he’s right, the original fascination is as strong as before.

Heinz finishes with adding the work of Latour to my reading list, by his last remark.

The attempt to shape your local surroundings intelligently and to consider how you can connect them in various dimensions of networks, reminds me of the localised politics in fragile networks that Bruno Latour describes in his terrestrial manifest as an alternative to the utopies and dystopies of globalisation and closed national societies. Latour describes earth as a thin layer where one can live, because one creates the right connections and maintains them. The unconference was an experiment to discover and develop such connections.

Thank you Heinz for your reflection, I’m glad you participated in this edition.

At the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference we did an ‘anecdote circle lite’ as an introductory activity. Participants discussed in small groups about their latest move to a different house, in terms of the biggest disappointment and most pleasant surprise of living in a new house/neigbourhood/city.

While one participant talked, the others in the group would write down things that stood out for them. This served as raw input for putting together the program of the day. Below the photo of all the remarks that ended up on one of our living room windows, is the transcription of all 130+ post-its. It is unsorted and in random order. Some of the post-its read like they’d deserve their own blogpost to explore.

stm18

  • City is experienced more than the place, the place lived more than the city
  • Does smart stuff make us faster? Smart slow stuff: yoga, walk the dog, pillow, alone time, just be, mountain bike
  • Get in town by changing speed
  • Move (=1) integrating connected to social fabrics (=2)
  • turning old hous into a living space
  • material things vs digital: like e-book collection
  • segregation big city, hard to connect
  • big new build house, spoiled? comfort
  • old owners of the house had own way of doing things (and we have the implications)
  • de-smart, why needed? “Lekker zelf knoeien
  • Combination green city garden station, freedom + comfort
  • moving from big to small, small to big
  • different transitions together with moving houses
  • the fence that is permeable (privacy + see through and contact)
  • shed-own space, tinker space
  • get to know people on the street
  • there are kids in the neighbourhood, but we hardly see them
  • it is more stressful when you know more
  • physical limitations, short range, 500m
  • travel time vs family time
  • self reliance, responsibility, freedom critical
  • plants and music
  • where to find coffee
  • un-smarting, light
  • children help bring/make community
  • technology also ‘blinds’ local jewels
  • approach newcomers
  • learning from overhearing experts
  • takes meeting many potential friends to find one
  • moving to area with different culture is interesting
  • small community very comfortable
  • small talk = life blood of community
  • when do you live in a city or just use a house
  • connections matter
  • transition issues – how not to get crazy in the process
  • you don’t want to be sharks with sharks, you want to be a shark with a fish
  • expanding and contraction
  • tinkerspace
  • energy
  • interhuman connection
  • view of a green toolshed, lots of travel time for work
  • eyeglass 2016 meltdown travel
  • accessibility in the city
  • rediscovering the city when not able to walk far
  • home = your own stuff? (living together!)
  • never moved, ice damage, 2 yrs
  • segregated cultures
  • to the hague, busy, rules and fines, large differences
  • standing out from the crowd is hard
  • slow moving, gradually
  • to make friends you need to see them in new environments/situations for next level
  • big city, big street, no social cohesion
  • smalll town -> big city
  • groups stay separate
  • sharing with other people to connect -social media, -online communications, free online courses
  • smart stuff to feel home: old fashioned slow stuff
  • living in 2 places, moving without moving
  • having a group that makes you feel at home
  • yard work = meeting people
  • social fabric in neighbourhoods, how to reach eachother
  • smart vs responsibility
  • homeschooling techniques & stories
  • stm starts with people, human, after that technology
  • anti-squatting: live in a room that is not designed for it / community
  • you have to move, even when moving
  • liked a 30s-40s home, but appreciates the comfort of a brand new one.
  • house with a garden, everything around the corner. Feeling the need for less ‘smart’
  • The stuff you bring to a new home define feeling at home
  • the first move breaks you
  • MSTM14 – best travel experience
  • hired house vs bought house, changes vs stable
  • amsterdam -> borg. Wow I’m living here now, jazz musicians
  • not being at home after moving busy at work
  • staying out of algorithmic propaganda world
  • when you build a new house you have to imagine how it will turn out. You buy it ‘on paper’. Conformity=expectations of society
  • outside city -> center, old house requires a lot of work, what do you really need?
  • smart slow stuff, algoritmic propaganda world
  • house is where I am, flexible/portable housel
  • live in an ambulance
  • connecting to people in building.
  • welcoming neighbours
  • moving evolves the world (e.g. neanderthals) and your family (e.g. ancestors)
  • discovering other similar people
  • home for kids so different for parent. time/part in life
  • kids do better understanding systems
  • needs from social fabric depends on the situation
  • social needs interaction
  • rules for making friends: it’s work, you need to set out to make friends
  • being somewhere new for a month inspiration
  • home is a combination of green and the comfort of good facilities
  • freedom
  • silence
  • “central”
  • being there needs a decision
  • unpredictability is cool too
  • serendipity?!
  • bumping into people is important
  • home ~~~~~ discovery
  • erasing traces / tracks
  • understand the city depends on the way of transport
  • Airbnb is not about living only
  • how to find chemistry
  • small road to a small town with 70 people
  • childhood roots us
  • what could possibly go wrong while moving
  • transitions are key stress factors
  • 1st home physical co??? with the space
  • walk cycle go by boat
  • discovery needs slowness
  • building informal network
  • moving is losing
  • noise
  • heart vs wallet
  • right side of town
  • freedom from family
  • more development after my development
  • cats own the house
  • all the friends you haven’t made (yet)
  • via Facebook a small room in Amsterdam
  • when do you still bump into friends by accident
  • a simple light switch works better than any app
  • hack your kid: online games -no money -earn money by irl activities
  • kids: boat —> steer, morning ritual, egg timer, backlog
  • color coding, feedback, move board along
  • yes you can forbid things (hack your kid)
  • connecting with people in buiding + new intro of people living in same building
  • warmth vs energy bills
  • adapt to little negative things
  • back in the city
  • architecture influences interaction / community
  • having a house you can walk around
  • NL-Hungry->USA->Turkey->NL (neighbours) – kids running through
  • old church now serves as a community center

My friend Peter has taken to sketching with water colors some year and a half ago. Since he’s been sketching regularly and posting some of the results on his blog.

During our event last weekend, at some point I came across Peter and Oliver sitting quietly in a corner of the garden, with Peter sketching our house.

All of a sudden something that I watched from afar, manifested itself right in my own garden. I hadn’t realised until that moment that that could happen, even if in hindsight it seemed likely from the start.

It is really pleasing to have Peter visit us and then see him draw something right on the spot. Something being sketched or drawn by hand, feels to me as if it is being seen. (Where photos might more often have a quality of ‘something I may or may not have time to look at later)

Peter saw our house. Through the eyes of the artist.

Through the Eyes of the Artist

At our birthday unconference STM18 last week, Frank gave a presentation (PDF) on running your own website and social media tools separate from the commercial silos like Facebook, Twitter etc. Collected under the name IndieWeb (i.e. the independent web), this is basically what used to be the default before we welcomed the tech companies’ silos into town. The IndieWeb never went away of course, I’ve been blogging in this exact same space for 16 years now, and ran a personal website for just under a decade before that. For broader groups to take their data and their lives out of silos it requires however easy options out, and low-threshold replacement tools.

One of the silos to replace is Twitter. There are various other tools around, like Mastodon. What they have in common is that it’s not run by a single company, but anyone can run a server, and then they federate, i.e. all work together. So that if I am on server 128, and you are on server 512 our messages still arrive in the right spot.

I’ve been looking at running a Mastodon instance, or similar, myself for a while. Because yes, there are more Mastodon servers (I have accounts on mastodon.cloud and on mastodon.nl), but I know even less about who runs them and their tech skills, attitudes or values than I know about Twitter. I’ve just exchanged a big silo for a smaller one. The obvious logical endpoint of thinking about multiple instances or servers, is that instances should be individual, or based on existing groups that have some cohesion. More or less like e-mail, which also is a good analogy to think of when trying to understand Mastodon account names.

Ideally, running a Mastodon instance would be something you do yourself, and which at most has your household members in it. Or maybe you run one for a specific social context. So how easy is it, to run Mastodon myself.

Not easy.

I could deploy it on my own VPS. But maintaining a VPS is rather a lot of work. And I would need to find out if I run the right type of operating system and other packages to be able to do it. Not something for everyone, nor for me without setting aside some proper time.

Or I could spin up a Mastodon instance at Amazon’s server parks. That seems relatively easy to do, requiring a manageable list of mouse clicks. It doesn’t really fit my criteria though, even if it looks like a relatively quick way to at least have my own instance running. It would take me out of Twitter’s software silo, but not out of Amazon’s hardware silo. Everything would still be centralised on a US server, likely right next to the ones Twitter is using. Meaning I’d have more control over my own data, but not be bringing my stuff ‘home’.

Better already is something like Masto.host, run by a volunteer named Hugo Gameiro who’s based in Portugal. It provides ease of use in terms of running your own instance, which is good, but leaves open issues of control and flexibility.

So I’d like a solution that either can run on a package with my local hosting provider or figure out how to run it on cheap hardware like Raspberry Pi which can be connected to my home router. The latter one I’d prefer, but for now I am looking to learn how easy it is to do the former.

Mastodon and other similar tools like Pleroma require various system components my hosting provider isn’t providing, nor likely to be willing to provide. Like many other hosters they do have library of scripts you can automatically install with all the right dependencies and settings. In the section ‘social media’ it doesn’t mention Mastodon or any other ‘modern’ varity, but they do list GnuSocial and its predecessor StatusNet. GnuSocial is a script that uses the same protocols like Mastodon, OStatus and ActivityPub. So it should be able to communicate with Mastodon.

I installed it and created an account for myself (and myself as administrator). Then I tried to find ways to federate with Mastodon instances. The interface is rather dreadful, and none of the admin settings seemed to hint at anything that lies beyond the GnuSocial instance itself, no mention of anything like federation.

The interface of GnuSocial

However in my profile a button labelled “+remote” popped up. And through that I can connect to other people on other instances. Such as the people I am connected to on Mastodon already. I did that, and it nicely links to their profiles. But none of their messages show up in my stream. Even if it looks I can send messages to them from my GnuSocial instance as I can do things like @someotheruser, they don’t seem to arrive. So if I am indeed sending something, there’s no-one listening at the other end.

I did connect to others externally

And I can send messages to them, although they do not seem to arrive

So that leaves a number of things for next steps to explore. Also on Mastodon in conversation with Maarten I noticed that I need to express better what I’m after. Something for another posting. To be continued.

Heinz Wittenbrink at our STM18 unconference remarked how my practice of ‘networked agency‘ reminds him of Bruno Latour‘s actor-network-theory. Heinz is someone well positioned on the bridge between social media practices and online strategies and philosophy. He’s been blogging about Latour at various occasions. So I followed his advice and bought Latour’s book “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory” of 2007.

Elmine says this about the difficulty to describe her feelings about having almost 70 guests, friends, family, clients, peers, neighbours, spend two days in our home. Where the youngest was 8 weeks, the oldest 80 years. Where the shortest trip made was from right next door, and the furthest from Canada and Indonesia, and the rest from somewhere in between:

I try to find words to describe what happened the past few days, but everything I write down feels incomplete and abstract. How do you put into words how much it means to you that friends travel across the world to attend your birthday party? That you can celebrate a new year in life with friends you haven’t been able to meet for four years (or longer)? Who’s lives have changed so drastically in those years, including my own, but still pick up where you left the conversation all those years before? How can I describe how much it means to me to be able to connect all those people Ton and I collected in our lives, bring them together in the same space and for all of them to hit it off? That they all openly exchanged life stories, inspired each other, geeked out together, built robots together?

It was an experience beyond words. It was, yet again, an epic birthday party.

It also extends to the interaction we had with those who could not attend, because the invitation and response also trigger conversations about how other people are doing and what is going on in their lives.

I completely share Elmine’s sense of awe.

Last Friday we ended the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference by smashing an evil robot called Smarty. Elmine, this being her birthday party, officiated by using ‘The Unmaker’, a hammer my colleague Paul brought us. She proceeded to smash the evil robot that made angry buzzing sounds, as a representation of all the ‘wrong’ types of ‘smart’ automatisation. Smarty had been built during the afternoon workshop that Iskander Smit improvised.

As I said at the time, part of ‘smart’ is the social side of things, not just the tech side. And part of those social aspects is the frustration and rage that comes with devices and software not responding or working the way we expect them to. Elmine used the opportunity to take all that out on our evil robot Smarty with gusto.

Some people have blogged about their experiences at our birthday unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters” and bbq in honour of Elmine’s birthday.

Peter wrote about the session his son organised, and about (re)connecting to the other participants in a way that describes the richness of the interaction well: “All the friends I’ve not yet met“, in reference to a sentence uttered at the event.

Frank described his day, and how he came to give a presentation himself in “The unconference is still the best format“. Original is in Dutch, here’s a machine translation to English.

Elja wrote a great post about the ‘oh sh*t’ moment where you think no-one will be interested in your story. The original is in Dutch too, so you may want to use the machine translation.

Iskander mentions how he adapted a workshop he regularly organises to facilitate a group to make a robot with the help of the mobile FabLab, Frysklab parked in the courtyard.

Heinz wrote a great essay describing and reflecting on the event. There’s a lot to unpack in his posting, which he also ties to the history and character of my connection with Heinz.

Elmine, the host and birthday girl herself, is still reeling from all the interaction, and in awe of all the efforts people made to attend. A feeling I completely share.

I wrote a few things myself as well. Do you have any diodes? about the day, and some notes on the process in Anecdote circles lite. And the video of the closing ceremony, made by Jeroen de Boer, of course! All my postings concerning the event are tagged STM18

When more postings appear online I will add them here.

Our event meant bringing together some 45 people. They all know at least one of us two, but mostly don’t know each other. Some type of introduction is therefore useful, but you don’t want to take much time out of the day itself for it, as often intro-rounds are dreary and meaningless exercises that sap energy and of which you don’t remember much immediately after. So we’ve aimed for our events to have a first activity that is also an intro-round, but serves a bigger purpose for the event.

Previously we’ve done 1-on-1 intro conversations that also produced a hand drawn map of connections or of skills and experiences in the group, to be re-used to find the right people for subsequent sessions. We’ve done groups of 5 to 6 to create Personas, as the first step of the design process to make something yourself. This time we settled on an idea of Elmine, to do what can best be described as Anecdote Circles Lite. Anecdote circles are a process to elicit experiences and stories from a group as they reveal implicit knowledge and insights about a certain topic (PDF). You group people together and prompt them with one or more questions that ask about specific occasions that have strong feelings attached to it. Others listen and can write down what stands out for them in the anecdote shared.

The starting point of the unconference theme ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ was our move to Amersfoort last year. It means getting to know, find your way in, and relate to a new house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. And do that in the light of what you need to fulfill your needs to be at home and feel supported in the new environment. But in a broader light you can use the same questions to take a fresh look at your own environment, and make it ‘smarter’ in being at home and feeling supported. Our opening exercise was shaped to nudge the participants along the same path.

In my opening remarks, after singing a birthday song together for Elmine, I sketched our vision for the event much as in the previous paragraph. Then I asked all participants to find 3 or 4 others that you preferrably do not know, and find a spot in the house or garden (inviting them to explore the house/garden on their own that way too, giving them permission to do so as it were). The question to prompt conversation was “Think back to the last time you moved house, and arrived in a new environment. What was most disappointing to you about your new place/live? What was pleasantly surprising to you about your new place/live?” With those questions and pen & paper everybody was off to their first conversations.

stm18

The thoughts and observations resulting from the intro-round

Judging by Peter’s description of it, it went well. It’s quoted here in full as it describes both the motivation for and the layeredness of the experience quite well. I take Peter’s words as proof the process worked as intended.

The second highlight is an event that preceded Oliver’s talk, the “icebreaker” part of the day that led things off. I have always dreaded the “everybody introduce yourself” part of meetings, especially meetings of diverse people whose lives inevitably seem much more interesting than my own; this, thankfully, was dispensed with, and instead we were prompted to gather with people we didn’t yet know and to talk about our best and worst moves in life.

What proceeded from this simple prompt was a rich discussion of what it’s like to live as an expat, how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and the power of neighbourhood connections. Oliver and I were in a group with Heinz and Elja and Martyn, and we talked for almost an hour. I have no idea what any of the others in our group do for a living, but I know that Martyn mowed his lawn this week in preparation for a neighbourhood party, that Heinz lives in an apartment block where it’s hard to get to know his neighbours, and that Elja has lived in Hungary, the USA and Turkey, and has the most popular Dutch blog post on making friends.

During the event Elja shared her adagio that the best way to get to know people after moving to a new environment is to do something together (as opposed to just sitting down for coffee and conversation). It’s pleasantly recursive to see a statement like that as the result of a process designed to follow that adagio in the first place.

I will transscribe all the post-its and post (some of) it later.

Some images from previous activities-as-intro-rounds we used in previous editions:

IMG_6973IMG_7015

Persona creation / Using the hand drawn skills cards

Drawing the Sociogram

Drawing a map of connections, dubbed sociogram, between participants

In the discussions during Smart Stuff That Matters last Friday, I mentioned a longtime demand I have of social media. The ability to on my blog have different levels of access, of presenting content. But not in the shape of having accounts on my site and corresponding overhead, but more fluid like layers of an onion, corresponding to the social distance between me and a specific reader. Where I write an article, that looks different to a random reader, compared to what e.g. Peter or Frank sees. Maybe even mark-up the content in a way that controls how specific parts of a posting are visible or not. We mused if IndieAuth might be useful here as a first step, as it at least spares me from the maintenance of accounts.

Do You Have Any Diodes? ….. …. Is probably the most unlikely question I got ever asked out of the blue at a birthday party. However the answer turned out to be yes, I did have two diodes. I didn’t think I did, but taking a look in the one box I suspected might have some electronic components in them, proved me wrong.

The diodes were needed to increase the strength of the scary noises an evil robot was emitting. This evil robot was being created just outside our front door where the enormous Frysklab truck, containing a mobile FabLab, was completely filling the courtyard. Representing everything that is wrong and evil about some of the devices that are marketed as necessary for a ‘smart home’, the evil robot then got ritually smashed into pieces by Elmine, wielding a gigantic hammer, named ‘The Unmaker’ that a colleague brought with him. That was the official closing act of our unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters“.

Around all this our 40 or so guests, friends, family members, clients, colleagues, peers, were weaving a rich tapestry of conversations and deepening connections. Something that our friend Peter put into words extremely well. Elmine and I are in awe of the effort and time all who joined us have put into coming to our home and participate in our slightly peculiar way of celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties where evil robots, a hyperloop to send messages from the courtyard to the garden, mythical German bbq-sausages, friendship, philosophy, web technology, new encounters and yes diodes, are all key ingredients to help create a heady mix of fun, inspiration, connection, and lasting memories.

Thank you all so much for making it so.

stm18stm18

stm18stm18

stm18

Next Friday our event takes place. With some 45 people registered to participate we have a group with diverse backgrounds again that promises lots of inspiring conversations.

It is time to explain our vision for the event, so that we all can better see how we might contribute to the program. This as we will build the program together on the day itself. This posting is to help you think of experience, stories and things you feel will be relevant for the event.

On the topic, on ‘smart’

The topic of ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ refers to being smart in how you live in your home, are part of the social fabric of your neighbourhood, and contribute to the dynamic of your city, while aware of more global changes and issues. ‘Smart’ is both social (behaviour, routines, interaction) and technological (methods, tools, software, devices) These layers, home, neighbourhood, city, and the world, are not separate but intimately connected and fluid.

Smartness, I think, resides in the way each of us are able embrace the interdependencies between those layers, and weave their connections into a rich tapestry. Smart is using those interdependencies to fulfil individual and collective needs, and build communal benefits from individual pieces, in the full awareness of global issues. The home is embedded in both neighbourhood and city and world in turn, but at the same time the home is also a local expression point of the layers it is embedded in. Building on those interdependencies, ‘surfing’ them by continuously adapting constitutes ‘smart’, I think. In contrast early visions of ‘smart cities’ were almost only technology and security focused. It treated the people living in a city as if they were a pest to control, rather than the key to creating a smart city, and the primary beneficiaries of that smartness.

Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans, aided by the devices and structures we create, and is inherently messy as it mixes, twists and turns, adapts and responds. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us. So it’s up to us to define what is ‘smart’ living.

On how ‘smart’ expresses itself

Many of you on the list of participants have found smart ways of dealing with things you care about. Found ways of addressing a need in your home, that creates a connection to your neighbourhood, your city or a global issue at the same time.

I wanted to measure temperature in my garden for instance, and did so as part of a city wide network that also monitors heat islands across the city, while providing at the same time infrastructure that others in the neighbourhood can use too. Peter did the same thing on PEI in Canada. Growing food in your garden can be a way to teach kids, next to providing some raw materials to your kitchen, while aiding in greening your garden allowing for better buffering of rainwater and prevent flash flooding in your city. Helping cleaning up a local park or water way like Gabriela is a good way to meet new people in your town, while reducing trash in the neighbourhood, as a small part of a global effort. Erik has experience in bringing neighbours together for a solar energy cooperative effort. Loulou created a clock that shows the time and the air quality around you, which can demonstrate. Elja lived in different countries and found ways to quickly grow some roots. Frank wants to get out of the closed silos of Facebook and Twitter, wants to own his own data, just like others present, and is finding his own route, from which we likely can learn. How is your house a meeting place, a production unit (of energy, goods, food, water, or data), how do you add to the diversity and strength of your neigbourhood, your city? How did you find out what to you could and wanted to contribute to? How did you find your way to solving your needs smartly?

On the program

To repeat myself: Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us.
That is true for the program of the unconference as well. All of us can bring experiences, stories and artefacts to discuss, compare, create and experiment.
At the start of the day we’ll take you through an exercise to both get to know the others better, as well as look deeper at ’smart’ living. This will bring out the ideas, questions and things you’d like to present something on, have a discussion about, or hear more about from others. From that we will build the program, in classic unconference format. There are several rooms (and a garden) available and multiple rounds in which we can all propose something to discuss, present, demo, make or design. We’ll plan the sessions for which there’s energy, and get going.

Three people of the Frysklab team are participating and bring their creativity, art design and programming skills to the mix. The Frysklab bus, with a mobile FabLab is available throughout Friday. This makes it possible to work with sensors and micro-electronics, and other machines when they’re useful.

How to prepare for the day

In the coming two days, before we start, maybe you will already have some ideas of what you’d like to share, discuss or do. Have look through the list of participants, to see where they come from, what they do, and what they share online about themselves. Friday when the door opens, we’ll make it a fun and inspiring day together.

Some of you asked what to bring, and how to chip in. There will be a donation box, for those who want to. We’ll probably ask you to assist with some of the food preparation. It’s Elmine’s birthday party so a hug is welcome too. Above all, bring your curiosity!

Logistics

If you come by car, please direct your navigation system to Darthuizerberg, Amersfoort. That’s a bigger parking lot, while our street is very short on parking space. From there you can walk to our house in a short time. We promised our neighbours not to take over the entire street.
Food will be served taking into account various diets (vegetarian, gluten free e.g.)

Find general info on the day, the program, the people, and how to get to, or stay in Amersfoort here. If you have any questions, do let us know.

We’re just over 3 weeks away from our 31 August event, the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference (#stm18).

With our summer hiatus nearing its end, I built a (still growing) list of currently registered participants. It’s a very nice mix of different backgrounds, ages, origins and interests. Some have been to our very first birthday unconference 10 years ago, others only recently became part of our personal or professional networks. Some live almost next door, some live half a world away. All have interesting stories to share, so if you haven’t registered yet but would like to come, do let me know, and bring your curiosity.

We’re now at some 30 people attending, from half a dozen countries or so. Likely we’ll end up closer to 50 participants for the unconference. Check out the list, and click some links to get a feeling for who’s coming.

#mstm14 crowd
Some of the participants in the 2014 event. Photo: Paolo Valdemarin, CC-BY-NC-SA

This is a growing list of currently confirmed participants for Elmine’s Birthday Unconference “Smart Stuff that Matters”:

  1. Gabriela Avram (Ireland)
  2. Ray O’Brien (Ireland)
  3. Marieke Wichern (Netherlands)
  4. Robert Slagter (Netherlands)
  5. Lilia Efimova (Netherlands)
  6. Frank Meeuwsen (Netherlands)
  7. Gerrit Eicker (Germany)
  8. Christina Wilhelm (Germany)
  9. Siert Wijnia (Netherlands)
  10. Yvette Veninga (Netherlands)
  11. Robin Heuten (Netherlands)
  12. Aldo de Moor (Netherlands)
  13. Wim Goris (Netherlands)
  14. Harmen Wijnia (Netherlands)
  15. Xavier Lopez (Spain, Germany)
  16. Simone Bleidt (Germany)
  17. Michiel Meijs (Netherlands)
  18. Johnnie Moore (United Kingdom)
  19. Vincent Geesink (Netherlands)
  20. Gerrit Kaper (Netherlands)
  21. Heinz Wittenbrink (Austria)
  22. Harold van Garderen (Netherlands)
  23. Paul Suijkerbuijk (Netherlands)
  24. Iskander Smit (Netherlands)
  25. Joachim Benjamins (Netherlands)
  26. Romy Joya Kuldip Singh (Netherlands)
  27. Madelon Kuiper (Netherlands)
  28. Pieter Parie (Netherlands)
  29. Hendrik Hantschel (Netherlands)
  30. Jochem van den Berg (Netherlands)
  31. Gerben Bruins (Netherlands)
  32. Alberto Cottica (Belgium, Italy)
  33. Niene Boeijen (Netherlands)
  34. Jeroen de Boer (Netherlands)
  35. Elja Daae (Netherlands)
  36. Willy Tadema (Netherlands)
  37. Herko te Paske (Netherlands)
  38. Martina Roell (Germany)
  39. Bas Froon (Netherlands)
  40. Erik Meerburg (Netherlands)
  41. Loulou van Ravensteijn (Netherlands)
  42. Peter Rukavina (Canada)
  43. Oliver Rukavina (Canada)
  44. Carla Verwijs (Netherlands)
  45. Elmine Wijnia (host, Netherlands)
  46. Ton Zijlstra (host, Netherlands)

(also see the Facebook Group)

More info:
STM18 Main page
STM18 Program
Smart Participants
Getting to Amersfoort
Places to stay

#mstm14 crowd
Some of the participants in the 2014 event. Photo: Paolo Valdemarin, CC-BY-NC-SA

August 31st Elmine and I host the 4th Birthday Unconference and BBQ-Party in our home in Amersfoort. The unconference is titled “Smart Stuff that Matters”.

So what is Smart, and what Matters?

A year ago we moved to Amersfoort. A different house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. The city where our daughter will grow up.

A new environment means lots of exploration. What makes a house a home? How can you smartly adapt your house to your needs? Who lives in the neighbourhood, how do you settle in it? What makes a city your city? Which existing initiatives appeal to you, and in what ways can you contribute to them?
Whether it’s a new habit, a new device in your home, your contacts and networks, or your approach: what are smart ways to act and contribute to your residence and environment so it supports you and the others in it? In the context of much wider developments and global issues, that is. Both social and technological, at home, in your neighbourhood, your city. It’s important to approach things in ways that create meaning, enable the important things, both for you and others. Smart Stuff That Matters therefore.

20180518_162141
Our house, in the middle of our street

A full day long we’ll explore ‘smart’ in all its facets.
Smart homes (and around the home), smart neighbourhoods, smart cities.
Socially, how do we learn, communicate, organise and share? How do we act, how do we contribute? How do we find the power of collaborative agency.
And also technologically, which technologies help us, which only pretend to do so, and are these technologies sufficiently ours?
We will have the Frysklab Team joining us again with their mobile FabLab, and have plenty of space to experiment with technology that way. Such as sensors, internet of things and programming. Or to build non-digital hacks for around the home.

Frysklab in da house!
Frysklab’s truck parked at our old home in Enschede during the previous unconference

Together we’ll explore what smart means to you and us.
Bring your small and big experiences and skills, but above all bring your curiosity, and let yourself be surprised with what the others bring.
Do you have ideas about what you’d like to show, discuss, present or do?
Have ideas about what you would like to hear from others about? Let us know! We’ll build the program together!

You’ll find all relevant information about the unconference on this site. You’re also welcome to join our Facebook group for the event.