Impressions TNW 2020

Just like the last 13 years or so I visited The Next Web conference. This year it took place in online space and that made the experience kind of different. To contribute to a report on the conference by INFO together with some of my colleagues, I collected my impressions. I share them here without editing.

General impressions

This was a special year of course. As a regular visitor of TNW I learned that the meeting of people, the overall vibe, and energy is one of the biggest assets of the conference, there are few other conferences with the same vibe. Also connected to the setup and location. So you can imagine I was curious how that holds for an online version. Without expecting too much as I have been visiting (and organizing) a lot of online events this year. I mentioned it in my first tweet that day: I prepared myself for two days hopping in and out of sessions: it is so much easier to get distracted and plan other things around the event.

That said, I was happy to have seen four interesting sessions (and also a few others that were too boring or commercial). 

Laura DeNardis

It was a pity I fell only at the end of the session with Laura DeNardis. I should have known that a professor could give some interesting views on the topic of “no off-switch” society. I thought one of her final thoughts interesting: “The future of hacking digital systems in times of Internet of Things is fooling the sensor data”, where she made the case that hacking becomes less focused on coding and deep tech, but much more on fooling the context of the devices.

Sean Carney

The session with Sean Carney of Philips Design promised some views on the relation of designing for digital transformations and empathy. After the almost usual technical problems getting the speaker in the Hopin-room, he had just enough time to go through his slides. After some casual introductions on design for experiences he sketched out the challenge within healthcare where technology implementation is “over-promised and under-delivered”. Designers play a crucial role here to bridge the gap and focus on maximizing time between patient and healthcare workers, leveraging the possibilities of AI as an example. It relates a lot here to the concept of co-performance of human and non-human actions I think (paper).

Especially when we will move towards remote healthcare concept as he predicts, decentralized, or even professional at-home-care with the healthcare worker on a distance.

Christopher Bauder

I like to find some more off-topic sessions without the usual start-ups and digital transformation platitudes. Last year I visited a very inspiring session on art installations, and so I attended the sessions with Christopher Bauder who amongst others made the installation Skalar at the beginning of this year in the Gashouder (feels much longer ago).

I like the discussion he had with moderator Moulsari Jain on the role of the visitor of the artworks and the ephemeral character of the experience. I would have been interested to dive a bit more in the role of logging experiences of this kind of art on Instagram etc and if the artist is taking this into account as part of the creation process…

Genevieve Bell

Happy to have seen two interesting conversations/presentations on future thinking. Genevieve Bell did a great presentation last month at Long Now Foundation on the 4rd industrial revolution so I expected an interesting session to close TNW on Friday. I was not disappointed. The main topic I think was -of course- on AI. Her statement that machine intelligence does not need to be human intelligence, but can (will) be a different type of intelligence we collaborate with, resonates a lot with me. 2035 will be looking a lot like 2020 as people don’t change that much over time. With moderator Anouk Vogels they discussed the future predictions of the past; the lovely drawings of Arthur Radebaugh from the fifties (Closer than we Think), and also movie references. Genevieve liked Bladerunner in its projection of human-nonhuman partnerships and the philosophical questions it unlocks. And Dr Who: not everything will work perfectly – even in the future.

Ben Hammersley

The last session I like to mention is one of Ben Hammersley . He was maybe the main reason to pay for the knowledge pass, and he did a great job indeed. Also in form, his powerful storytelling does hold in an online event. Nice to see how he choose to talk to the moderator as public as he could not see anyone else. I will not go through his whole speech, but the main point he addressed was the change in perspective on future predicting. The title of his talk ‘you are not weird enough’ is referring to the current perfect storm we experiencing and making every prediction with a longer time frame impossible. Try to really go all out. We cannot predict the future of January and that makes us anxious. So what to do? We only can to celebrate maximise the diversity we have in our group. Surround ourselves with as many ideas as we can from as many places as we can.I think that is a great take-away.

Hopefully next year in person again!

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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