Drones are buzzing through the air. People are sitting around wearing virtual reality goggles. A young start up guy is taking a 3D image of a woman with an iPad. Friends are cuddled up in a huge day bed. Music is playing in the background. Vendors are offering super foods. Bloggers are typing into their MacBooks. Visitors are roaming through colorful stalls. And everyone’s hunting Pokémon.
What seems at first sight like a fun fare for adults was this year’s Tech Open Air, the TOA. A rather unconventional tech conference which attracts not only internet nerds and tech geeks, but also artists, musicians and journalists. The TOA combines Silicon Valley start-up spirit with Berlin’s bohemian atmosphere. Attendees had the chance to listen to lectures, network in the garden area, or dance the night away at one of the many satellite events.
The unorthodox conference approach of the organizers is no coincidence. Many of the topics which got discussed during the two day-long event reflect this new way of bringing technology together with an offbeat lifestyle. The spheres of drugs and sex are getting conquered by makers and start-ups who build apps, hardware and create infrastructures to explore new markets. For instance, Cindy Gallop was pitching her “Make Love not Porn” website which advocates a more open minded and also a more realistic approach towards sexuality online. She argues that people are “oversexed and underfucked” and that therefore her new service will enable users to gain back a balance in their sex-lives. Eventually, she wants that people are able to be as open-minded and sharing with their sexuality online as with their other social media accounts.
Next to the new visions about love which got showcased at TOA, a significant amount of speakers was pointing out a different direction in the recreational and scientific use of drugs. Like for example the author of Brave New Cannabis World, Joe Dolce, or one of the organizers of Burning man, the techno festival which takes place each year in Nevada’s desert. They both aim to “radically transform the infrastructures of our civilization.” This shall be done with the means of artistic creations and the destigmatisation of psychedelic drugs. Till then they are busy with “prototyping the future of our society.”
But it was not all pure hedonism at the TOA. The potential risks which new technologies and the internet are bringing with them got critically reflected as well. Companies like Facebook or Google have become the superior gatekeepers of the web and online surveillance is the new normal. Different approaches of organizing data and the internet are in the making to challenge the status quo of tech giants and to decentralize the internet into a more democratic system in which we can all participate.
Old ideas in a new setting. San Francisco’s hippies of the 60s and 70s have taken some classes in business and entrepreneurship now. Many of the voices coming from Silicon Valley which were present at TOA are embracing the old ideals of the flower power generation, but with the only difference that they have learnt how to capitalize on love and drugs. Berlin seems to be the perfect testing ground to export those new toys, sedatives and concepts to.
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The TOA is an annual tech conference taking place each summer since 2013. It includes two conference days and more than 150 satellite events all over Berlin.
More info here.