Rococo: Saving the world one wiki at a time

I am back from Rococo and basking in the afterglow of an amazing weekend. I can’t even believe that so many cool, creative, socially aware, dedicated (and did I say smart?) people would be together in the same space, all wanting to talk about the same thing: wikis (and by extension, social software) and their potential for progressive social change. It was thrilling to be amongst them (corny as that sounds), and absorb their vibe, their enthusiasm and their big ideas.

The two people responsible for me even knowing about Rococo in the first place are Anne Goldenberg, one of the main organizers, and Stephane Couture. They both work in the LabCMO, part of the School of Media at Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM), where they are doctoral students. They are big fans of Feenberg, and the three of us have a stunning amount in common, in terms of our research, our approach to pedagogy, and activism through the academy. It was really good to connect with them, to realize I’m not working in obscurity, on an arcane subject matter.

Anne is an amazing woman. She’s an activist, well traveled, but originally from France (and so would lapse into French while speaking to me and not even realize it). She spent the last year organizing Rococo. She did a fantastic job; as I say, the conference was great. Stephane is intense, passionate about his work, and crazy sharp. Like a typical grad student, he talked all weekend about the paper he had to write, but managed to show up nonetheless. I first met them both at last year’s CCA (I’m not going this year, btw – no funding, no time and Saskatoon?). I had organized a panel on various applications of critical theory of technology (Feenberg, again, of course) and Stephane attended. He stopped me after to offer up a Latourian critique of my presentation (geeks, wikis and IMC etc.), which intrigued me, though I didn’t understand it. I’m still waiting to hash that out with him. According to my friend NinaB, everyone could always use a little moreLatour.

One of the first sessions I attended was “initiated” by Marc Laporte. It was called “TikiWiki: The Wiki way applied to software development.” I was nominated, après le fait, to be note taker (merci, Marc). This is what happens when you’re always clickety-clacking away on your laptop. I did have notes, but they required some work before I would post them in the wiki. Which, incidentally, is one of the great things about these tech unconferences – all the sessions are either liveblogged (Web of Change), or recorded in various media (BarCamp) and/or transcribed and then put in the wiki (Rococo).

This is awesome, because those participating remotely can keep up w/events, and of course, because of the historical record created. By the end of the conference, the wiki has become this rich repository of raw and semi-processed data, complete with all the links and contact info for attendees. This is an invaluable resource from the perspective of a researcher. And noticeably absent from regular academic conferences, where all that is available (if you’re unable to attend for financial or scheduling reasons) is an abstract on a static website. (Not helpful. But I’ll save rant about public intellectuals for another post. At least there’s Public Knowledge Project, which is a start anyhow…)

Marc’s session was cool, but pretty geeky; I mostly just listened, and sometimes required translation (e.g. from geek into English) but it was just the sort of thing I’m interested in. You can check my post on it here.

Another interesting session was led by Mark Dilley. This is a very cool guy; I recognized him right away (by his accent) as a Michigander. Talking to him was familiar, like being home; it transported me back to Windsor and that core of environmental and labour activists that made living in that city bearable. Mark is a labour organizer, who became radicalized almost a decade ago as a rank and file worker. Once he realized that his social justice goals could be pursued through the union, he became an organizer. Now he’s caught the wiki bug and now does wiki evangelism (see the notes from session Sunir Shah and Stuart Mader’s session on this. Incidentally, I saw Stewart talk about the use of wikis in education at Northern Voice 2007), though I don’t think Mark would call it that. But he’s definitely enthusiastic about the potential for radical democratic organizing through wikis.

Liam O’Doherty’s session was right up my alley – on wikis and activism. Liam, besides having grown up a few streets away from me in the Beach, and having gone to the same grade school, is the creator of This is a wiki that exists to inform people about the negative aspects of consumer products – what to avoid and why. The wiki is a marriage of art, design and information; the offspring is subvertising. It’s basically a wiki culture jam (think AdBusters). This kid (he’s only 20!) has big ideas and lots of enthusiasm; he’s getting ready to bust out, I can feel it.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of activists I met at Rococo, including Antoine Beaupre, from Koumbit, who is a cool cat (an anarcat, in fact!). They knew which “movement” I was talking about, and a number had attended the FTAA demo in Quebec City in 2001. This is in contrast to BarCamp where I think there were two – me and one other guy, who used to work with resist!ca.

I need to write about Open Space, which is the concept behind how Rococo was actually run (vs. organized). But I’m not going to do it now. Consider this a footnote, a promise and a reminder to me…

Another aside: I love Montreal; I knew there was a reason I always wanted to live there. On my trip back to Van, the absence of bilingualism was striking. I missed immediately the omnipresence of the French language, floating by in conversation, humming in the background, ever-present in casual encounters – the hello’s, goodbye’s and excuse me’s. At one point, I found myself in a session that switched into French, me being the only English speaker. There was the offer to translate but I declined, content to just listen, to try to understand as best I could. I enjoyed hovering on the edge of French conversations at the bar, over coffee or in between sessions. I felt a bit like an eavesdropper but it was fun. By the end of the weekend, my comprehension had improved markedly, and I was following along much better.

Crikey, this is a long post; enough for now; more later…

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