Published November 24th, 2016
by Swanchita Haze

This month saw the launch of Techaus – Ideas for a Connected World. The event aimed to tackle some big, impressive-sounding and reassuringly-vague topics – “Disruption, Creativity, Engagement, Skills and Vision” using a hashtag inspirational line-up of some of the biggest names in the industry in Scotland.

Considering Equator were pushing tickets as late as the day before, it seems unlikely the event sold out completely. I mean, we knew it would be good but was it £11.21 good? Maybe people are finally waking up to the fact that events are often not worth their time, money and attention.

On the 11th of November – alongside Techaus – there were 4 other digital events in Scotland, all competing for digital sector attention. For the month of November, we have a grand total of 113 digital and creative events. I found these after 30 seconds of googling and I know there are far more.

The monumental global success of TED hovers over many of these events like a fart made of flowery words, most of them meaningless. No one is denying that it’s fantastic to hear experts talk passionately about the things they really care about but TED is the poster boy for people that think their hobby or job is much more than it actually is: whatever they’re doing matters because it’s changing the world. Jane McGonigal’s talk on gaming is the archetype for this type of hyper-hyperbolic nonsense, and I highly recommend you watch her try to explain how World of Warcraft will end obesity, world hunger and that whole middle east thing.

South Park
They just watched her talk

The TED brand legitimises opinions and gives them weight, regardless of how true they actually are. For example, “the best stats you’ve ever seen” is a really engaging and interesting talk, with data delivered in an insightful way that makes you look at it differently. 10 million people have seen it. Trouble is, it’s not a scientific talk and there’s a fair bit of debate centred around whether any of the stats he provides are actually true (he never provides sources, so we can’t tell).

If you want to see the point that TED set the bar for talking absolute shite, watch U2 and Breaking Through by Dan Oshinsky, in which Dan (“reporter, entrepreneur, lover of start-ups, frequent troublemaker and creator of awesome stuff”) spends a little over 10 minutes saying exactly nothing while badly strumming along to “Elevation”. There’s also the one with the guy who gives a ten minute talk on how to use paper towels or how to tie your shoes. Here’s one by a man who just seems to be listing all the things he feels guilty about masturbating to.

Do we really learn anything from these day long exercises? Or are they just excuses to fill our Twitter feeds with photos of presentation slides. At Techaus, some of the talks were probably interesting. “AdBlocking – the disruption of an industry” is particularly appealing to me. Advertising disrupted the free flow of information online by monetising it – changing the internet from a playground for academics and perverts to a civilisation-eating mega-industry. If AdBlocking has truly disrupted a disruptor, is something going to come along that will disrupt AdBlock? If you disrupt a disruptor of a disruptor will we rip a hole in our consciousness and end up floating perilously through space in some kind of monolith/space baby situation?

We’re all technically space babies

Digital is shiny, and new, and frequently changes, but at events we just seem to watch the same people tell us the same things over and over. I can’t remember coming away from an event feeling like I had learned something that made me better at my job. Can you? We’re genuinely interested to know. If you’ve attended an event this year, tell us about it. If you’ve been to more than one, tell us about them all.

It may be that I’m just tired of hearing the same white guys tell us the same things. There is a gender diversity problem in the digital industry, we might have mentioned it once or twice. We’re definitely not the only ones acknowledging this, with the Government’s digital service going so far as to introduce guidelines for events to follow if they actually want a GDS rep to speak there. To Techaus’ credit, they appear to have a pretty inclusive range of speakers. Not inclusive by any societal standards other than digital industry standards – but you get what we mean. Certainly not The future of digital with a 50/50 gender balance one of the speakers is aiming for, but hey ho.

Simpsons GIFs still always relevant

There seems to be an epidemic of people thinking they’re doing some wondrous thing for other people just by existing and working in digital. And you’ll find most of them delivering talks at events.

Jesus Christ Corporate Clone

They aren’t. It’s part of our capitalist, consumer economy, just like any other. If you were able to turn your design hobby into a creative job, that’s good – you’re extremely lucky. But don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything more than you are. There’s a reason that the people giving talks trying to convince a room full of nerds that the work they do is worthwhile aren’t doctors, diplomats or carers. For a start, they’re too busy making an active contribution to humanity to be delivering powerpoint presentations on a workday. And they don’t need to convince anyone they’re doing something great. They’re just doing it.

We shouldn’t be throwing self-celebratory parties disguised as learning events about digital ”changing the world” when the technology and the industry still has some very real problems that need to be addressed. Social media and digital technology aren’t inherently great just because they’re disruptive. They’re responsible for some legitimately awful and mildly shitty things including:

Back in ye olden pre-digital days, I worked for an organisation which frequently held events. Before each event, a business case had to be put in place outlining the objectives for the event and the value for money likely to be gained. For all the moaning we’ve done about Techaus, it does at least seem to have objectives. But for others, I have no idea what their purpose is supposed to be, other than “let’s play with VR headsets for a while” or “hey, social media is a thing now, let’s talk about that”. Is that really a good use of anyone’s time, money or attention?

If you’re honest, you know most events are bullshit too. We can’t be the only ones wondering how many of these events are actually valuable? What are we actually achieving, either personally or professionally by going to events? Why do the digital and creative industries need so many of them? Do we really have this much to talk about?

We don’t think so. But if you don’t agree, tell us in the surveymonkey. And if we’re wrong, we’ll admit it*: 

*No we won’t.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

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by Swanchita Haze

The true identity of Swanchita is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. We receive her blog submissions written by hand using ink on parchment, delivered by a small Dickensian orphan boy.

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