BarCamp: wiki in the flesh?

Today I’m checking out BarCamp Vancouver. I first learned about at the Canadian Communication Association’s annual conference, in June. I presented on a panel with other members of the ACT Lab, on various aspects of Feenberg’s critical theory of technology. After our panel, this guy sort of waves to me or points at me. I did one of those casual looks behind my shoulder and donned the “who me?” expression, trying to look as cool as possible. It was my first panel. Anyway, he introduced himself, in the perenially sexy Quebecois accent, as Stéphane Couture, and then launched into a Latourian critique of my presentation (on tech activists’ appropriation of wiki technology). Then he said he and some other tech activists were putting on a conference about wikis sometime in the near or distant future, and would I like to come?

So. I misplaced his email (recycled the paper it was on, actually), but tracked him down through my intrepid sleuthing skills and my good friend Google. In the process I discovered the conference was actually a bar camp – they call it RoCoCo, Montreal’s version of the Portland Recent Changes Camp. And I’m all, what’s BarCamp? So I checked it out and lo and behold, one was coming up in Van. I signed up.

And then I got an email, out of the blue, from an old girlfriend, whom I hadn’t heard from in over a decade. She saw my name in the BarCamp wiki when she registered. She’s a geek now, with her own podcast, Lipgloss and Laptops. She’ll be podcasting the event, so you can tune in to antics and ongoings of VanBarCamp at your leisure.

Bascially, BarCamp is the grassroots response to FooCamp, annual invitation-only unconference hosted by open source publishing luminary, Tim O’Reilly. I’m interested in BarCamp because it is the physical manifestation of the virtual wiki. Who cares? I think it’s important because it shows the link between the tech activism, whose effect is twofold (deepening democratic tendencies of technology e.g. free software in particular and the Internet in general) and democratic practice in the physical (vs. virtual) world. This suggests a dialectical relation between the technical and the physical. In other words, democratic practice online is prefigured by the desire for a more just society; actualized as democratic interventions into the development and use of technology, it then manifests in alternative modes of social organization in the physical world. This is what I’m writing about in my chapter for the ACT Lab book that Feenberg is putting together (he has high hopes for it and will be approaching MIT Press; we’ll see…)

I hope to present at BarCamp tomorrow but I’m not sure how many social justice types will be there. I get the impression it’s more about the technology rather than the activism, and appeals to “tech creatives”: local technologists, geeks, innovators, enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, tech writers, tech managers, bloggers, podcasters, video bloggers and hangers-on. I suppose I might be described kindly as a hanger-on. Anyhow, I’m going to check it out, take field notes, blog it, see how my preconceptions pan out. I could be totally wrong.

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