Free society conference – my experience

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Until the very last minutes I was unsure whether I’d make it to FSCONS, the Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit. I did not know what to think of it, despite gentle pushings from one set to speak at the conference. Three days later and with the event somewhat filtered in my mind, there is no doubt that it was well worth the opportunity costs and then some.

I'm going to FSCONS 2010!

My first impressions while browsing the event programme were that there was no way to attend all the interesting talks! An insurmountable problem, and I hadn’t even gotten there: my meat could not be in two to three places at the same time, while my mind could not rationally choose away interesting unknowns.. so I opted to leave it to a vague notion of chance and intent.

What I hadn’t expected was the powerful impact that the people attending would have on me. Cyber heroes and heroines, freedom fighters, game changers, inventors, uncelebrated cryptoanarchists and everything makers were some of those that I got to know, that engaged me in dialogue, that dared discuss openly some (most?) of the hardest problems that we, the world, are facing today. With the full intent to do something about these problems.

I’ve never really been to Göteborg. Sure, I’ve driven past it on my way back to Norway and maybe eaten at a restaurant once or twice, but I haven’t been in the city at all. Already the evening I arrived at the hotel I was struck by what seems to be the city’s soul: a memory of greatness that has been and a richness that is and will be. When I saw my hotel, approaching by foot from the bus, I laughed out loud: the hotel was a ship! So romantic that I just had to ask the receptionist, “when are we casting off?”

hotel ibis

Cast off we did it seems and that’s the way my experience continued (and grew) with a rapid fire succession of eye-openers.

Already on the evening before the conference we got into a discussion about distributed search engines. Michael at, who crawls the whole net every day, explained that our internet is mediated by corps like google and yahoo and that we can take that power back by doing our own searches. It seems I’m not the only one worried that big corp owns all our data.

The morning after, my friend Salve explained how we can enable teachers and students to improve education with customizable textbooks like Kaizendo, but what really blew my mind was how the same idea could extend to policy and lawmakers…

Having been annoyed by the impossibility of understanding computers for decades I was surprised to learn that the good people of CERN have contributed to making open hardware a reality and have solved non-trivial stuff like sub-nanosecond time synchronization with their White Rabbits. Here’s an idea, how about we use open hardware and sensors in the industry process, energy and infrastructure sectors? Might be easier to detect things like the Stux

At lunch I had the privilege of overhearing Gisle Hannemyr and Øystein Jakobsen having a compelling discussion on the freedom of speech vs software piracy where the Pirate Bay were called capitalist pigs on one side, while on the other likened to 4chan, and could only be legitimized if it contributed to utterances that were significant for the three most important dialogs: privacy, freedom of speech and the human rights. This was to contrast it against Wikileaks which could be shown to provide such a contribution. I wanted to hear them out but had to make it to another talk..

Karyah showed us all that art and tech can be used to create interactive storytelling in societies subject to censorship and oppression. Who if not us, she asks, challenging us all to find what we really stand for and how far we are willing to take it, knowing that our privacy, freedom and sometimes even lives may be at stake.


Fitting then that I would later end up in a talk on decentralized social networks and a subsequent hallway discussion that fused this idea with decentralized searches and cryptoparanioa.. touching on a number of difficult problems it boiled down to a question of how to make it stick with the general populace, so mezmerized by facebook and sheepfarmer apps that noone can realistically opt-out of giving away our likes so they can be sold to targetted advertisers.

reprap printed objects

That same hallway took me to a home-made rapid-prototyping 3D printer being hacked upon by one of its keepers who was calibrating the machine and printing spare parts and.. moustaches. Apparently clever people have taught these things to produce their own spare parts and even self-assemble!

reprap printed objects

Due to the hallway discussion I missed out on a talk or two but it was well worth it, and I did get a chance to catch up later with the one-wire filesystem and get a (really cheap) starter kit and temperature sensor.

reprap printed objects

After the obligatory coffee pit stop my legs carried me to the end of the world as we know it, a talk on strategies for non-violent wall-hole punching change that we need to solve the problems of today. Overpopulation? Artificial scarcity! Guess what, global food production is enough to feed everybody, it’s really a logistics problem.
Fits my own research pretty well, it seems that the impending doom of overpopulation has been overly televized and is posponed, we are much more likely to kill each other and the planet for a few dollars more. Gloom is best left for good times, it’s bad times that require optimism and fun problem solving.

Berg 211 hosts fsconsies

As the evening set in we were herded into buses that took us to a cave where we had (almost) no internet access and a fair amount of booze, and were therefore forced to socialize like we hadn’t before. A thousand projects were proudly displayed, ideas were fiercly exchanged, and war stories of police raids and censorship battles were shared in hushed voices, while laughs were had and we succeeded to maintain the illusion of a freeze-frame and had fun while making that evening last forever.

The next day I had lunch for breakfast and learned the historical backdrop of the current patent system, or the ethics of intellectual monopolies as Glyn calls them. These made sense back when ideas were scarce but now we have more Einsteins alive than have ever lived before! It seems that we can put the final nail in the coffin for patents which are artificial monopolies that hamper the encouragement of learning. We want to encourage learning, not monopolies!

Your right to participate in society should be excersised as often as possible, and it turns out direct democracy is enabled by todays technology. Several people (, Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, Kaizendo) are cluing in on the fact that we need to create the expectation in kids minds that they can participate and that they should expect their actions to matter.

That talk and a pit stop for tea lead me to catch the second half of the talk of a CERN inventor by the name of Allessandro Rubini who explained that though patents are stifling innovation it boils down to the prisoners dilemma, where everyone is forced to participate in the broken system because it’s the rational thing to do. He also showed us some of his very cool inventions and gave us a small insight into how he can’t help learning and doing and making things every day, with most of it being “unfinished crap” he builds just to try things out. Do they patent things? Only “big things”, and only because attribution matters.

Though there were still interesting talks on the agenda FSCONS seemed like the right forum I found myself quickly preparing a lightning talk on biodiesel as an unspoken alternative, and ended up in a room full of very bright people doing elevator pitches for cool solutions to interesting problems:

There was Mathias who told us of his work distributing information in the bushes of Africa – turns out what they really need is not handouts but your trust, in the form of microloans, and more music, they need more music! This guy was basically establishing a sneakernet so that they could share more music. EACOSS and MIFOS. I also learned of the Brazilian Zero Hunger programme, which is amazing, the Brazilians are really on to something!

Next thunderbolts were introductions to an open bank ID application, your media on your own freedom box at home, your website on your own devices and a quick and easy collaboration tool called the plankapad, and the idea of free public transportation, all followed by my own flash talk on biodiesel which went all right despite the demo effect killing all my images.

Because of the lightning talks I only caught the very end of the talk on permaculture, a way to do agriculture that takes into account the whole cycle and therefore is sustainable. The eye opener here was thinking about money as a medium of communication, and that as long as we keep using current monies that are based on debt and petroleum we will be part of that system. There is an alternative to the exploitation: we can base our monies on food and cycles of the earth, and not the resource economy of today.

In the end however the people there were the most impressive, and the lucky few that lingered after the closing pizza, as well as those of us that missed their bus ended up at Gnutiken, the local hackerspace and open source infoshop/store, where we caught up with peers over gin and juice to the conclusion of this very excellent and most awesome conference. I literally had to tear myself away to catch the bus back to Oslo.


Far more and better pictures can be found, other places.

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2 Responses to “Free society conference – my experience”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rikard Fröberg, wildcard. wildcard said: Posts like this is but one of the many fine reasons why I continually volunteer for #FSCONS [...]

  2. [...] Free society conference – my experience Three days later and with the event somewhat filtered in my mind, there is no doubt that it was well worth the opportunity costs and then some. [...]

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