Thomas Madsen-Mygdal: Reboot

I’m here at the Moving Images conference in Malmö, Sweden, to talk about email a bit later. My talk and Thomas‘ talk are the only ones in English, so here’s notes from his very good but very brief look at the conference he runs, Reboot.

Basic facts about Reboot – festival that’s run 11 times in the last 12 years. Very young when he started it. Enquiry into what the internet is and what it means to us, and also a personal journey. Currently taking a break because involved in a lot of stuff, but also getting very tired and not sure what would be worth spending 2 days of 600 people’s time.

Something that’s a movement or an event is hard to describe, so three small stories that illustrate journey of Reboot.

2001, post bubble. In 2000, there were 2400 people during the day, and 4000 people partying at night. Was a huge thing that was out of control. So in 2001 all this social stuff was happening and was sad about how we treated the potential of the net during 1998-2000, and wanted to say that there was more than what we saw during the bubble years. 2001, had 1500 people there. Had some huge speakers, but everyone just wanted to know how to get a job, how to make a living.

Changed the perspective, not just tech as a tool, but look at what people are doing, changing things due to understanding tools, new behaviours, etc. Transformational. Someone complained that it was all ‘one way’, big name speakers, said it all sucked, and this at a time Thomas was very proud of it!

2002 he totally shifted it all around, so it was one big open space, one speaker in the morning one at 8pm, the rest self-organised. Half the people loved it, specially woman. Everyone else wondered why they paid money for it.

The importance of the invitation. Every year the challenge is “Can I write an invitation that gives meaning to myself?” And this year he couldn’t, so taking a year off. Always find it interesting to ask, when do you invite people? So much stuff gets decided before you open up and invite people in. Started looking at academic conferences who have a call to participate. Only thing that’s set is the theme, then the rest is an invitation to come on a journey and figure out what the event is. It’s not that it’s self-organised, but that the purposeful invitation is undervalued.

Why are we doing this? When do we put the invitation out?

In 2007, for some reason, Reboot became international. Website changed from Danish to English, and then a lot of international folks showed up. At one point there were only 15% Danes.

Then in 2008, a big event organiser told him that the stage wasn’t big enough, wasn’t decorated well enough, should be more separation between rooms, and saying ‘It’s not a real conference’. Thought about it, and thought that everything was designed to be on a human scale. It’s about equality: no VIPs, no speakers’ room, everyone is equal, everyone is trying to make a good experience for everyone. Facilitation is doing just little enough that it moves along, but not so much that it turns into a big circus.

Marketing. Ten years ago, had a huge marketing budget, then it became more that they were just doing their thing and the people who want to be a part of it come along. Now they do very little marketing. When you do something that gets the right people in the room with the right attitude, it just happens. Doesn’t really understand what’s happening sometimes, but it works because people know it’s their peers int here. Speakers are much more experimental.

Designing for human scale, something we’re early in trying to understand.

Overall lesson would be, How do you get yourself into it? You’re spending your time on this creation, how do you give it everything you’ve got, but at the same time, that’s what makes it scary to do. Doing something isn’t about the factual stuff you need to do. We use the same venue for the last six years. It’s not about that. It’s more about this mountain of expectations that this is going to be a life-changing two days, and you’re sitting there six months before, wondering how are we going to get the right people? Is it going to be magic or something else? When you’re doing stuff about participation it’s all about What we want to do with them, but i think participation always starts with you, your behaviour, your attitude, what you want to accomplish with it. That’s where all this participation projects go wobbly, they see participation as a small part of traditional process.

Two years ago, we were thrown out of a nightclub for various weird reasons. So outside, on the other side of the street, a street party appears. Some guy had some speakers and they just adopted that party.

So the next year, they searched for this guy with the sound system and they did the street party again. Got shut down by the police twice in a row. But what this was was looking at what the ecosystem was doing, then providing the little bit of magic that let that happen again.

Participation is magic.

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