Category Archives: Events

Spotted: Me and Ken Worpole talking utopias at Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Thanks to my recent initiation into post-punk anarcho-folk outfit Pog, most of the festivals I’m going to this Summer are of the muddy field variety. The exception is this upcoming talk at Stoke Newington Literary Festival, where I’ll be attempting to match acclaimed writer on urban policy Ken Worpole‘s insights on the architecture of utopias in the built environment with my own observations from the virtual realm.

It’s five years since I published Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in Search of techno-Utopia. Re-reading Thomas More’s 500 year-old Utopia for this talk, and particularly Book One (the one everyone forgets), I was reminded that being sceptical about people in power and their ability to act on the best information and advice is not a new thing. In his introduction to the Penguin Classic edition, Dominic Baker-Smith talks about More’s work being essentially an exploration of the “problematic relationship between imagined worlds and mundane reality”. Although reformers of all kinds will recognise this relationship immediately, I suspect it’s also something good software engineers think about too: after all, it’s actually their job to design perfect systems for non-perfect worlds.

Ken and I were introduced by the lovely Travis Elborough, who will chair the talk. He promises to help us “explore the concept of utopia, taking in Ebenezer Howard in Hackney, Garden Cities, Buckminster Fuller, Geodesic Domes, The Grateful Dead and the World Wide Web”. It’s on Saturday 4th June in Stoke Newington and you can buy tickets here.

Spotted! Me at LSE this evening

I will be delivering a guest seminar as part of the IT Law & Media Seminar Series “Data Liberty in the 21st century” tonight at LSE. The seminar starts at 18:00 and lasts for an hour and a half. Attendance is free and open to all but space is limited so please email H [DOT] Tan1 [AT] lse [DOT] ac [DOT] uk to confirm your place. The venue is the New Academic Building NAB 7 Floor Moot Court.

I’ll be using the seminar to explore some of the ideas raised in my book Barefoot into Cyberspace. And I’ll be selling and signing books after the event.

Little Atoms at the Bishopsgate Institute: Whose mind is it anyway?

The Whose Mind is it Anyway? season at the Bishopsgate Institute kicked off in early September. It’s being co-curated with, among others, Little Atoms (which, incidentally, continues to air every Friday on Resonance 104.4FM – techies may wish to check out the recent episode featuring Misha Glenny talking about his new book on cybercrime) and the season runs into the New Year.

Why am I telling you this? Mainly because I’ll be chairing an event on the evening of Tuesday 15th November called “Information Dissemination in the New Media Age”. Featuring Heather Brooke (The Revolution will be Digitised), Brian Cathcart (a former colleague at openDemocracy, now Professor of Journalism at Kingston University) and Google’s Peter Barron. Here’s the blurb:

With rapidly developing new media and modes of mass communication, we continuously absorb information as well as giving information about ourselves. From political leaks to twitter, mobile location finders to credit card use, information is collected and roams. The beneficiaries are clear, with possible political advantages, marketing opportunities, subliminal advertising and surveillance as well as greater access to information for all of us. Who controls what information is circulated and to whom? And to what extent does censorship conflict with freedom of information or overlap with data protection and privacy?

Tickets are £8 (£6 concs) and the action starts at 7:30pm. More details here. I’ll be selling and signing books after the event.

Spotted! Me at the Anarchist Book Fair with Heather Brooke

Poster for the Anarchist Book FairThis Saturday, I’ll be appearing at the anarchist book fair in Whitechapel, London. Come along to hear me and Heather Brooke, author of The Revolution Will be Digitised in a discussion lead by the NUJ’s Donnacha DeLong on “Reclaiming the Media”. Here’s the blurb:

This year will hopefully be remembered as the year when Rupert Murdoch got his just desserts. 25 years after the Battle of Wapping, the UK’s biggest scandal-rag, the News of the World, became a scandal itself and was shut down. But Murdoch isn’t the only problem in the world of the media, only a handful of corporations own virtually all of it. All run to make huge profits and have been cutting staff and quality for years. Time to reclaim the media and build new economic models.

The meeting starts at 12 noon in the Mason Lecture Theatre at the Queen Mary campus on Mile End Rd. More details here. I’ll be around a little bit before and a little bit after, selling and signing books.

Spotted! Me at the Rebellious Media Conference with Noam Chomsky, Douglas Rushkoff and Bill Thompson

Next weekend, I’ll be down in London for the Rebellious Media Conference, which invites you to join the resistance to the corporate takeover of the internet and is being organised by Peace News, Ceasefire magazine, New Internationalist, Red Pepper, Undercurrents and visionOntv.

On Saturday, I’ll be speaking alongside Cambridge buddy Bill Thompson (with whom I was plotting a skit over the weekend that involves him wearing a rather ridiculous outfit), then joining a panel with Douglas Rushkoff, who will be appearing via Skype. That’s all under the rubric “Whose internet is it? Are we losing the war?”, and the action kicks off at 2:15pm.

On Sunday, I’ll be appearing alongside Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, Zahera Harb, Taesun Kwon and Nadje Al-Ali to discuss the future of radical media at the final plenary session at 3:30pm.

The conference sold out months ago, but if you are lucky enough to have a ticket, do come and say hi. Copies of Barefoot into Cyberspace will be on sale on Saturday via the lovely folk at the Zed books stall.

An afternoon with the original code-breakers

Yesterday, I went to the Bletchley Park Summer Party, which was sponsored by the latest donor to the historic site of the WWII code-breakers, Google. Paul Clarke took a lovely set of photos which capture the spirit of the day. Here’s my measly offering, taken mainly at the National Museum of Computing (NMOC), which was a bit of a revelation.

The tradition of housing research scientists in ugly pre-fabs has a long history:

Hut 1 at Bletchley Park

Hut 1 at Bletchley Park

The WITCH is the world’s oldest computer. The NMOC hope it will soon be the world’s oldest working computer:

The WITCH at the NMOC, Bletchley Park

The WITCH at the NMOC, Bletchley Park

The PDP-11 was the machine that Stewart Brand wrote about in his iconic Rolling Stone article: “Space War: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums

A rack of PDP11s

A rack of PDP11s

Tomorrow night: technology and resistance at Dingwalls, Camden Market

I’ve no idea what to expect from this event tomorrow night, entitled “Technology and Resistance”, and taking place at Dingwalls in Camden Market thanks to the industriousness of an outfit, real or imagined, called the Camden Players. All I know is that I’m speaking at it, alongside James Ball (ex-WikiLeaks, now a Guardian data journalist, presumably because they their NDA had better terms), Sarah Morrison of the Indie, and a man I’m sure I’ve met before called Mark Simpkins. The event starts at 7:30pm, and I’ll be talking about some of the ideas in my new book.

Tonight! Pick one: utopia/dystopia

Update!: The recording of this event is now available for download.

I’ve already mentioned that I’ll be at the Free Word Centre tonight, chairing the “Which way to techno-utopia?” event. There are still a few tickets going and if you’re in the area, you should come.

That starts at 6:30pm, so I imagine we’ll wind up in time for you to whizz home to catch the first of Adam Curtis’s new three-part documentary on the perils of digital utopianism and the fallacy of the liberating network “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace“, which airs on BBC2 at 9pm.

Together with Neil Denny, I interviewed Mr Curtis last Friday for Little Atoms. If you didn’t catch the broadcast, the podcast will be up soon. Adam Curtis is someone whose work has shaped mine and whose approach I admire deeply, and it’s been a wrenching experience watching him dismantle the ideology I’ve spent a good part of my life not only believing but promoting. I confronted him about this on Friday, and he was very nice about it, while firmly standing his ground.

Episode two airs next week, and touches on many of the themes I explore in Chapter 3 of Barefoot Into Cyberspace, which regular readers will know is available for free download.

Here’s the trail for tonight’s broadcast:

Which way to techno-utopia? Event at the Free Word Centre next week

picture of signpostBe it nostalgia, futurology, or just the desire to escape our home and seek our fortunes in foreign lands, human beings have a tendency to see happiness anywhere but where they are. But which way is techno-utopia: backwards, forwards, or sidewards? The trash culture of globalised mass-production may make us hamper for an age when the gadgets beginning to invade our home were made (in Britain) to last a lifetime, or it may make us hungry for a virtual world devoid of material detritus. What is certain is that a society’s approach to technology will be driven by the ideologies of the moment.

Next Monday I’m chairing an event where I hope to explore visions of techno-utopia from three distinct angles. On stage will be Gia Milinovich, Angela Saini and Ken Hollings.

Gia is a presenter, writer and blogger, specializing mainly in new media and film. She has worked in a technical capacity on major blockbusters including The X-Files, Indiana Jones and 28 Weeks Later, and she advised on and appeared in the 2009 BBC programme Electric Dreams. I’m hoping that what she’ll bring to the discussion is insight into the modern fetishisation of vintage technology and, more generally, technology’s depiction on the big screen.

Ken is known to this blog, and talks very engagingly about the visions of technology, its power and potential, that pervaded the 20th century during the Cold War. I’m looking forward to seeing him again after our radio show together last year.

Angela is an old acquaintance from my openDemocracy days, and has her first book out this year, Geek Nation (subtitle “How Indian Science is Taking Over the World”). I’m hoping to get some insight from her about the founding myths that inform the Indian tech scene.

If you’d like to come, tickets cost £5 and you can buy them from the Free Word Centre website. The Free Word Centre itself is on Farringdon Road in London, opposite the building that used to house the Guardian newspaper. The event is being put on by Little Atoms. I look forward to seeing you there!

Photo credits: Peter Nijenhuis@Flickr

ORG is 5!

ORG is 5 logo

Happy birthday to the Open Rights Group, which turns five today.

It’s hard for me to imagine a world without ORG, and not just because I had the pleasure of running it for two years. In the five years since it was founded by 1,000 concerned citizens, ORG has been a crucial voice in debates as far-ranging as whether we should trust computers to tabulate and count votes for us in elections (we shouldn’t) to whether we should let internet service providers snoop on our browsing activity in order to sell us advertising (we shouldn’t do that either). And of course, ORG has played centre stage in national, European and global campaigns to make the intellectual property framework work for citizens and consumers. I’ve been an ORG supporter for five years and I know better than anyone how crucial my monthly £5 is to ORG’s continued success.

It’s more than just the money. Having a predictable future income helps ORG plan campaigns in the long term – vital if they are to match the considerable lobbying clout of the incumbent rightsholders and new internet giants that flood Westminster and Brussels with legislative and regulatory proposals that are not always in the public interest. Having a sustainable core financial base is a great selling point to grant funders who tend only to want to make project-based grants. And being able to tell legislators that the reason you are here in front of them is because over 1,500 citizens have decided you need to be and put their hands in their pockets to make it happen is a very powerful message indeed. If you haven’t joined the Open Rights Group yet, there are three good reasons to do so today. Go on. Do it.

And now for something a little more whimsical. Here’s the piece I wrote for openDemocracy five years ago to celebrate the founding of ORG. Enjoy:

Tonight, I am following in the footsteps of a Grateful Dead lyricist, Sun Microsystems’ fifth employee and the inventor of the spreadsheet. Like John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, who together founded the United States-based organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 1990, I am starting my own campaigning group for online rights. Well, I can’t take all the credit. Together with over 1,000 other people I have pledged that I will pay £5 (approximately $8) each month for the sake of a voice in an arena where our future online civil rights are at this very moment being put to paper.

It’s an innovative way to start a campaigning organisation. Not until a critical mass of 1,000 people had been reached (with a last-minute call from cult blog BoingBoing for the final thirty-three signatories) could the Open Rights Group (Org) come into being. Using, a site designed by British civic participation hackers MySociety, the co-founder of British netzine Need to Know Danny O’Brien (himself an EFF émigré) started the process off. He pledged that if 1,000 people would join him, he would commit to funding a modest advocacy group that would give a voice to young technologists in the press and at the drafting table to the tune of £60 a year.

This bottom-up approach is testament to the organisation and the values it represents. But the thrill of being involved has not allowed the Org project to pass by without criticism – in fact, the openness of the group has exposed it to heartfelt involvement from many sides. But the project has already met with its first success. In speaking out against content owners’ desire to be treated as equal to security services in terms of access to electronic personal data – a piece of draft law currently being fast tracked through the European Union – Org has finally added the crucial alternative voice in the modern dialogue of online rights.

Campaigning for digital rights is a very wide mandate. Not only is access to the internet increasingly, and rightly, being seen as a basic right, but the traditional concerns of civil rights are magnified in the virtual world. With more personal data swimming around in the ether than ever before, and with security services more enthusiastic than ever to get their hands on it, privacy is top of the agenda, and hopelessly skewed. Likewise freedom of speech. The recent sentencing of Chinese journalist Shi Tao on the strength of evidence provided by a third party global corporate entity should prove that the impossibility of global governance of the net also has its downsides.