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The Conference, Part One

"Power, Disruption and Lies" in Malmö at Scandinavia's largest technology and innovation conference, presented by Media Evolution

by Leonora Oppenheim in Culture on 29 August 2013

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Last week The Conference was held in Sweden's southernmost city of Malmö and Cool Hunting was in attendance. The centerpiece of this exciting five-day media smörgåsbord was an intense 48 hours of conferences and parties, sandwiched by dynamic workshops and local tours on either side. Now in its third year, The Conference—run by the Swedish non-profit Media Evolution—plays host to a wide range of high-profile names speaking about innovation in contemporary media. Each year, it brings the best talent of Scandinavia together with an international line-up. This year's overarching theme, "Power, Disruption and Lies," was a heavy-weight trio of topics for speakers, and audience alike, to sink their teeth into.

Among them was Cindy Gallop, in her element on the subject of disrupting the porn business; Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian's waxing lyrical about fighting for an open internet; and "Searching for Sugarman" director Malik Bendjelloul with his impassioned reminder that real happiness comes from true creative independence. Learn more about these speakers and more in part one of our look at The Conference.

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Optimism vs Realism in the Slaughterhouse

The central conference event took place in the Slagthuset, an old slaughterhouse complex built in 1904, and recently transformed into an industrially chic venue with a 900-seat auditorium. With topical intent, The Conference had named two break-out rooms Snowden and Manning. The latter's signage was kept up to date and re-named Chelsea on the second day. Across The Conference's keynotes and panels ,patterns began to emerge from the dense cloud of information filling up the voluminous spaces of the Slagthuset building. The dominant themes were, on one hand, optimism about our constantly evolving relationship with technology and, on the other hand, a note of caution, laced with the stark realities of our very human potential for addictive and destructive behaviors in our ever more dominant digital world.

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Women are Still Doing it for Themselves

One panel session about online harassment was particularly powerful and is surely a must watch of all the talks online. While the online environment is still an extraordinarily hostile place for women who address female representation in a male-dominated worlds, such as panelists Anita Sarkeesian, Kate Miltner and Laurie Penny, the atmosphere at The Conference could not have been more positive. The ratio of female to male speakers at The Conference has been growing—this year reaching a new peak of 52% female speakers. This achievement was positively reflected in the ratio of 52% female attendees. For what should by now be a regular occurrence in the conference world, this equality felt like an extraordinary triumph and made the event inspiring for everyone.

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The Equalisters

Summing up this success was Swedish feminist campaigner Lina Thomsgård's spirited account of her Equalisters Project—or Rattviseformedlingen in Swedish. This campaign for equal representation makes the best possible use of a humble Facebook page to compile lists of hundreds of talented women in various industries. As someone who works in PR, Thomsgård was shocked by the low profile of women in the media, and as a DJ she was shocked by how few women were at the decks on the club circuit. Fed up with the same old response of, "We wanted them, but we couldn’t find them." Lina said, "I'll find women for you!" So she has: Equalisters growing to a 50,000-strong network in no time. This project isn't just for Sweden though, soon Thomsgård will be starting chapters in the US and the UK and hopefully it won't stop there.

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The DIY Music Industry

This sense of taking action from the ground up was strong throughout The Conference. British musician Ruth Daniel spoke about how Northern England's independent music scene rallied troops to create Un-Convention, a grassroots organization bringing people together to discuss the future of independent music. Un-convention is also part of the Global Music Network, which helps mobilize independent musicians around the world with free digital tools and examples of best practice. Ruth went on to talk about the Brazilian success story that is Foro Di Eixo (Do It Yourself), an alternative model for the independent music business, run by musicians for musicians. This non-profit organization operates from cooperative houses in towns across the country. It has spread far and wide; to 200 towns with 33,000 bands and 6,000 events. Foro do Eixo has even created its own credit card system and last year generated its own mini economy of $4 million.

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Hacking Outer Space

Ariel Waldman, founder of Spacehack, spoke in the same session as Ruth Daniels about her similar intentions of creating bottom-up inclusive communities in a traditionally top-down industry. Rather than music, Ariel's passion is citizen science and the opportunities for opening up space exploration and observation to everyone via hack days and online participation. As a designer who is a true earth-bound cosmonaut, Waldman spoke enthusiastically about the amazing potential we all have for exploring the universe without leaving home.

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The most entertaining aspects of Waldman's talk were the fantastic inventions created at the science hack days she's hosted in San Francisco. Out there ideas such as The Beard Detector, the (sub-atomic) Particle Physics Windchime and the Near Earth Asteroid Lamp show the fun that can be had when designers, technologists and scientists collaborate. These engaging creations that attempt to connect man with the cosmos lead us nicely onto our second themed report from The Conference, which will be about expressive technology. Stay tuned.

Images by Leonora Oppenheim

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