Nishant (latelyontime) wrote,
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Barcamp Bangalore (BCB4) - Collectives Edition: A review


The grass collective ;-)
Originally uploaded by aanjhan

The Barcamp Bangalore 4 [Collective Edition] (BCB4) was possibly the biggest autonomous public event that Bangalore has seen in some time now. Taking upon the model of the unconference – a space where every participant is a speaker; a space without hierarchical differentiations between delegates and audience– BCB4 was an extraordinary feat of planning, organization and participation. Traditionally a Barcamp is imagined as a techie collective. BCB4 proved to be much more than just another tech camp which are easy to find in the burgeoning IT city of Bangalore.


As a participant who has seen the Barcamp Bangalore evolve from the small (about a hundred participants) Barcamp that started almost a year ago, to this mega event which became a platform for many other events and groups to come together, BCB4 was an interesting study in formulating a new public sphere. In a city that is slowly losing the public spaces an onslaught of multinational that sell spaces of public meeting, the BCB4 became a unique intervention in the city, to create a free space for people from varied sectors – from programmers to social scientists, from venture capitalists to academicians, from social entrepreneurs to social activists, from bikers to musicians - to come together in an informal collective and talk their hearts out in the space of two days (and nights!) and bring to the fore questions of their lifestyles, choices, politics, ideology and immediate environment. Here is my review of this absolutely mind boggling (for those who have minds) event – accolades, suggestions, threats and future possibilities.


Accolades:

I think it is the most untruthful cliché that claims that if you walk in somebody’s shoes, you know where the shoes pinch – largely because everybody has differently sized feet. So as a non-organiser, I am not even going to pretend to imagine what the organizers went through in getting through the BCB4 without dead bodies and warfare. However, from my own experience of watching some very close friends organizing the event, and from my own participation in the BCB4 (two collectives, one mock collective, a whole lot of fun), here are some of the things that you need to appreciate.


One of the questions that many people asked was “Why Collectives?” From conversations with jace (who was also the one who coined the term), I could see how much thought had gone into coming up with the idea of the collectives. As the number of participants for the Barcamp increased, the organizing team saw that a lot of time and effort was expended in just trying to gather around a particular theme or an idea. Also, large numbered collectives mean that many people might not get a chance to talk at all. The collectives, powered by group mailing, allowed for people to not only focus more on the interactive (as opposed to lecturing) element of the Barcamp but also facilitated collaborative presentations and conversations which preceded and will hopefully also succeed the Barcamp.


Many people seem to be shouting about the lack of structure at the Barcamp and are fuming in their indignation at the lack of organization. I think that we need to distinguish between these two processes. The organization – laying out the infrastructure, logistics, food, electricity, internet connectivity – for this BCB4 was more competent and efficient than most ‘professional’ conferences I have attended. It of course helped that the organizing committee were abated by a bunch of people who realised that they were as much responsible for the Barcamp as the people who had visibly taken up the role. As for the unstructured chaos – that is a part of it. The whole fun of Barcamp is to move around, to network, to move, to mingle, to join things you might not have expected to find, to discover new ideas, to expose yourself to new thoughts and perspectives, sometimes about things you never even suspected, existed. And this is exactly what the organizers managed to do: Despite the misguided attempt to glorify their ‘cause’ through heavy numbers and big presentations, the real Barcamp, as far as I was concerned, resided in the small groups and collectives, conversations and discussions, arguments and debates that flowered all around the beautifully breathtaking IIMB campus.


And let me wrap up the accolades by congratulating the BCB4 committee for their foresight. Instead of continuing with the available model of the Barcamp, they experimented with the architecture to produce a Barcamp that was more ‘organic’ and in sync with the needs of the local environments. This Barcamp was not just a tech meet or a geek camp – it was a cross section of thinking, articulate, proactive, passionate people who desired to come forth and share their knowledge. This Barcamp also became the umbrella platform for various other events and groups to form collectives and use the platform to further their ideas and thoughts to a larger and more varied audience. It requires a lot of sagacity to shape such an event and to keep it polymorphous so that it caters to the many varied contours that the participants demanded of it.

Suggestions:

These suggestions are purely in the hope that with the next Barcamp, I will be able to help implement them. I do not presume to pronounce directives, but looking at some of the concerns that have cropped up and some of the confusion that was voiced, there are a few things which can be done to further BCB in its next avtara.


One of the things that the organizers marveled at was that a majority of the large number of people who turned up were noobies to Barcamp. Each Barcamp seems to be attracting a new audience and a very small number of people who can provide the transition links. While it is very encouraging that new people should be exposed to this particular intervention, it is also slightly disheartening that more people are not using the BCB as a platform for sustained conversation. It is time we started branding the BCB as not simply a one-time-wannabe event but come up with a way by which all the barcamps can be hooked up in historic and narrative continuity. The archiving of the earlier Barcamp and making links between the Now and Then might help.

If such a large number of Noobies are indeed doing the rounds of Barcamp, it is necessary to give them a sense of what propels the Barcamp further. A survival kit – cartoons, pictures, videos, peoples’ reactions, responses, all bundled together to orient them towards the next bar camp might be very useful and reduce the amount of confusion that erupts on the first days.

Considering that the Barcamp is becoming such a huge event, it might be interesting to now capture other sources of public intervention – academic institutes and organisations, autonomous collectives, independent organisations and NGO’s working in the development sector – to come and use the Barcamp platform to inflect the questions and concerns being asked there with different perspectives.

As somebody who is aspiring to be a full time academician I also feel that the Barcamp needs to be more receptive to younger students who would benefit so much from the amount of gnyan and gurus floating around that concentrated space. I, for one, would be very interested in planning a Barcamp outreach that not only taps into these resource pools but also introduces the concept of a Barcamp to more than just the people who are already in the know.


Threats:

When an entity grows beyond its original vision, it can often become confusing and perhaps threaten to implode under its own weight. With the number of people it is attracting, the Barcamp might easily devour itself, becoming like any other conference where there are proposed sessions and large audiences which are only on the receiving end of things. While the Collectives Edition helped to avoid this at some levels, it is now imperative that sharper focuses, more preparedness and thought should be encouraged from all the different participants.

It might also happen that with the growing popularity, other players – corporate or otherwise – might emerge to hijack the Barcamp to mould it for advertising or recruitment. While both can be accidental to the event, care needs to be taken that it does not get abducted into the commercial brouhaha. I remember, how, at the first Barcamp Bangalore, we had joked about the ‘Spirit of Barcamp’. It might be time to start documenting the ideology, the thought, the process and the vision as each Barcamp introduces a new twist in the tale.

It is in the nature of things that when they grow, they get institutionalized and canonized. The day that Barcamp becomes canonized and predictable, we will probably need to start something else – a Darecamp or something. Spreading the word, the ideas and engaging in discussions about the Barcamp and what it stands for is right now the biggest problem. A lot of people often turn up at these trendy events because they are trendy. Filters – not discriminatory filters that shoo people away but intelligent filters that encourage the desired form of participation, is encouraged.



At the end of my day, I spent both my birthdays (Saturday was the one according to the Christian Calendar, Sunday was the one according to the Indian Calendar) at the BCB4 and feel that I couldn’t have spent them better – meeting friends, making friends, having discussions and a whole lot of fun. If you missed out on the barcamp phenomenon, there is always the next time because BCB5 has already been announced for November. So keep an eye out on this space.

Tags: bangalore, barcamp, barcampbangalore, bcb4, birthdays, friends, geek, iim, intervention, public sphere
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