37C3 Experience SummaryComments on the 37th Chaos Communication Congress
Attention Conservation Notice: A random participant's perspective on a niche subculture conference.
Three weeks ago I went to the 37th Chaos Communication Congress (37C3). I'll give a quick note of my experience; usually I'm too perfectionistic to actually post anything, so here I'll keep it simple and short to avoid falling down that hole.
To describe the Congress in one word: inspiring.
It was a weird mixture of things I appreciate, care about, and enjoy, put together in one space. The proportion was a bit different than my interests—I'm not quite so deep in tech discourse nowadays—but the elements were all there. Here is an incomplete list of random happenings and themes from 37C3 off the top of my head:
- talk by Polish hackers who hacked into trains and exposed widespread industrial sabotage
- discussions of various security issues and vulnerabilities
- lots about digital privacy
- talk by cryptographers about algorithms for provably secure mixing of messages
- cat ear printing station (lots of cat ears all around!)
- talk on politics of Belarus and anti-government protests
- multiple sessions on obscure math factoids
- polyamory experiences discussion
- kink party (not on congress grounds)
- techno rave in the congress center
- lobste.rs meetup; the first Lobsters meetup in person ever it seems
- discussion / networking session on technologies for activism
- widespread gender ambiguity
- 1h30m lecture + Q&A on history of furries in tech at 15 min past midnight (one of my favourites probably)
- workshop on permaculture in Rojava
- number of discussions on climate activism
- Blahaj washing and stuffing station
- infoshops with lots of cute zines and books
- plenty of art workshops
- lots of face masks with filters
- bathroom rave
- cozy tea & chilling corner
- lots of stickers
- discussion on setting up hackerspace communes
37C3 was massive. I don't have a precise number, but I've seen estimates of ~12'000 people. Now, the most wonderful part in all of this is that the Congress is grassroots. It is organized by the Chaos Computer Club, an association of hackers mostly based in Germany, with offshoots in other countries. It has a structure, branches, and so on, but it is based on free assembly of people just agreeing to do things together. Sessions and stalls at 37C3 were, similarly, put up there by participants who mainly wanted to share and socialize. Any participant could just pick a time slot on the Congress website to organize a workshop or talk, and they did! The schedule was so incredibly full that choosing what to see became an exercise in suppressing FOMO; you really just need to accept that you will miss out.
I added a bit myself into this mix. I co-lead a workshop on David Graeber's book Debt: The First 5000 Years, similar to one I previously helped with at Fintopia in Zürich. ~130 people showed up! Perhaps it's not surprising that the topic spurred interest, given that Graeber himself gave a talk at the last congress, but it was wonderful to see in any case. I definitely recommend organizing a session at a future Congress. The system is approachable, the crowd wholesome, and the discussions almost certain to be interesting. It's also a nice way to connect with others, as illustrated by the fact that multiple people struck conversation with me about my workshop throughout the congress.
Our workshop was a mix of input lecture and discussion. To encourage people to think and socialize, we had dedicated time slots where participants would share thoughts with their neighbours. First, one person would speak for a minute. Then, they would swap, and let the other talk for the same time1. Later on, we also opened up space for discussions in wider groups. I encourage including such social bits in workshops—attendees thanked us afterwards for helping them connect with strangers.
There were some things which I think weren't discussed at the Congress enough, namely emotional care and degrowth. There already were some spaces to relax, nap, cozy chill zones, and similar, but I think a workshop or two more with a focus on emotional health would have been wholesome2. It felt quite easy to get lost and confused in the chaos of the Congress. As for degrowth, I think it's the one big topic that struck me as missing from discussion, at least in sessions and conversations I witnessed. It was a tech conference, so I think it would have been a worthwhile place to discuss policy strategies focused on using less tech. Perhaps next year.
Emotionally speaking, there was something incredible to being there, at 2 am, on the dance floor, right after a one-and-a-half hour lecture about the metaphysical connections between furries and tech, surrounded by so many people who are working to make the world a better place, enjoying themselves in this free space. Almost like a glimpse of a nicer world we can build 🌻
To finish up, the question which strikes me is: how do we make more of these? How can we create more spaces like this, more societies of this sort? It took an immense amount of organizing to pull off just one congress like this. This was the 37th! It's truly inspiring to see that the CCC is still going strong. I think we would all benefit if more communities enjoyed a similar level of organization. How can we recreate this success?
I don't have an answer to that, but I suspect that the key ingredient at play is lots of effort.
This way, everyone would be nudged to think about the topic on their own, including those who may otherwise be shy to talk. I was inspired by workshops at the Rethinking Economics Switzerland Summer School 2023.
I'm thinking of nonoviolent communication, self-compassion, and so forth; the kinds of things organized by Empathie Stadt Zürich.