This year PICNIC was all about new ownership: the movement of empowerment of the people and taking responsibility, as citizens as well as organizations. The talks and workshops revolved around how to develop and realize solutions to collective problems – all with a focus on people: creating and sharing value for people. This year’s host Alice Taylor (from MakieLab) told the audience in her opening speech that historically, ‘open’ wins. The speakers were to show how openness should be realised in our digital world and how it thus will also rule the future. Choosing Amsterdam’s new filmmuseum EYE as location for the two-day event created a different atmosphere from last year’s more out in the open container city on NDSM wharf – EYE felt a little too intimate. Apart from that, it was as inspiring as always.
Cinema 1, where the keynote speakers spoke, was the place where we spent most time. George Dyson, historian and philosopher of science, kicked off there with the statement that it’s our job to use technological power for the good cause. We now already hold more computing power in our hands, than the entire world had a few years ago. Dyson appealed to see it as our job to think morally and act, in Orson Wells’ words, as a “world intelligence that is conscious of itself.”
Next up was Byron Reese (Demand Media) giving an entertaining and encouraging talk about ourselves: nowadays we are not born into a role anymore. Instead we spend your our entire life playing. We are thus born in ‘circumstances’ and should make the most of them. Rees sees technology as the provider of solutions to poverty, diseases, hunger and even war. He told us to remember that we will be deemed a low-tech world soon.
We also listened to Rich Pell, the director for the ‘Center for PostNatural History’ in Pittsburgh, talking about biological life being intentionally altered by humans. Organisms have the ability to replicate themselves for free, but our economies are still based on a strategy where life is owned (via – among other things – intellectual property rights), preventing this natural replication. The essence of his talk was that we should have the option to disagree with the system and thus fight for openness.
Young Dale Stephens, founder of Uncollege.org, shared with us his opinion on education; it is becoming more and more self-directed, because the internet is an additional ever-growing source of content. He made the conscious choice to educate himself and is an active supporter of decentralized education. When asked “but what about the beer and girls” that he would be missing out on by not going to college his answer was: “I prefer guys and champagne.”
Bas Abel (Head of Waag Society’s Open Design Lab) subsequently posed the question: “How can we own something, if we can’t open it?” Which is to say; many appliances are made in such a way that they cannot be opened by the consumer. To Abel, ownership is a form of engagement, not property. When you can open something, you are able to understand the system behind it, and engage in it. But since we “like it thin” there is an “electronic anorexia” around us, which results in unfixable electronics. Hence the development of the ‘Fairphone’, a new form of fair-trade in electronics. “Ownership through opening” should eventually lead to more social responsibility Abel argued.
Our second day at PICNIC started with Andy Hood from AKQA talked about how businesses should survive the digital future. According to Hood self-interest should be replaced by a wider set of interests and a new kind of relationship with the consumer. What’s more, like in real ecosystems, businesses need a partner to enrich the gene pool. In other words, we need to align all the selfish genes with the interests of our business partners.
After lunch Farid Tabarki of Studio Zeitgeist explained why we all are little Lady Gagas; just like her we are all liberated. Or, put differently, we live in a decentralized, transformed world, which means that we can produce our own energy (solar panels), share knowledge for free (Wikipedia, online schooling) and no longer need financial institutions to fund projects (Kickstarter). But what does this mean for the system we live in? The challenge is to renew our system as smoothly as possible towards a world of ‘radical freedom’.
The last speech we attended was probably the most anticipated one: the keynote by Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media). The man who once coined ‘web 2.0’ is an advocate of building value for customers and measuring success by what we manage to realize in the wider world (value creation) – not what you get out it for yourself (value extraction). After all – quoting Nick Hanauer – it’s the customers who create jobs, not the capitalists. While many people create products and content for the digital world out of love for the community, it all ends up to be monetized in the end – e.g. internet providers charge creators and consumers for access of content that they themselves obtain for free. But fortunately, according to O’Reilly, we are moving towards a ‘gift culture’ in which you gain status by what you give away and the value that you create and share.
Though we knew already that the internet has given power to the people, this PICNIC refreshed our minds and made it quite obvious that our world will more and more look like an ecosystem of equal producers and consumers. A world of shared ownership that is much more efficient compared to the old – analogue – world to which we are slowly but surely saying farewell. And with so many new insights in our pocket, we already look forward to PICNIC 2013.
Here are some impressions.