A short debrief

February 11, 2023

Earlier this month I went to a few different events connected to this years’ FOSDEM, a free software meetup hosted in Brussels. I’m going to keep this post brief and just make a few observations.

Brussels has some very cool spaces

The weekend took me to a range of places, the one I wanted to highlight was the Studio City Gate, a temporary space with a skate park, brewery, community garden, and the Brussels Hackerspace. If you’re in Brussels for the weekend sometime (and if it’s still there, because it’s a temporary space), then check it out!

The kinds of communication prioritised by the different events said a lot, and seemed unconscious

FOSDEM was made up of a series of talks, involving a presentation from someone (i.e. elevated to the status of teacher) to an audience, and then usually allowing questions to be posed by the audience. The other main component were several rooms of stalls from various companies, open-source projects and organisations. This also facilitated organisation-to-audience communication, encouraging discussions to take place between the representatives of organisations and a general audience. Distributed or democratic modes of communication were fairly non-existent, outside of the party and meetups of specific groups (I attended the Matrix community meetup). Despite being decentralised both of these are examples of fairly unstructured communication.

OFFDEM in contrast was made up almost exclusively of workshops and assemblies, for the most part involving smaller groups than the FOSDEM talks and using fairly typical methodology for facilitated democratic discussions. Since OFFDEM (Ozone Fast Forward: Decolonizing Europe Matters) is an offshoot event for the more politically self-aware aspects of “Free Software”, it’s not surprising that there was a greater need and a greater focus for democracy.

Nevertheless it was surprising that the experiences were so polarised, and I couldn’t help but feel like FOSDEM would have been better for having more federated political direction (and more democracy), and that likewise some of the workshops I attended at OFFDEM would have benefited from more advanced planning, well-defined objectives of practical output. Indeed someone raised a point about the overuse of general assemblies in grassroots movements, and suggested that especially for autistic and neuro-atypical people some more experimentation might have been welcome.

## Hackerspaces are everywhere, and they’re fantastic

When people ask me what they are I tend to describe hackerspaces as being like DIY libraries for sharing skills and enthusiasm. For example:

  • Many hackerspaces empower ordinary people to bring in their broken devices and fix them with the help of others in the hackerspace.
  • Computers are a very common focus, but there’s also often people who are into textiles, music, art and gardening. The scope of activities depends on the space and the people in it. A common sub-type of hackerspace is a bio-hackerspace, where people play around with biology and biocomputing.

There are many spaces like this, allover the world. I’m always surprised at the variety of very interesting people I come across at hackerspaces and the variety of things people do there. I highly recommend finding a hackerspace near you, or visiting one when you next visit a city.