My mind is still buzzing from #Cong14. More ideas per square minute than most events would have in a week.

It was a day and more of conversation and serendipity. People I’ve known online and off. Some of the connections have deep roots. Sean McGrath who’s blog I first paid attention to over a decade ago, but had never met and Bernie Goldbach who I first met when the crackle of dial up modems was how I got online.

Initial plans to drive down to Galway on Friday morning were changed by Client meetings. There was a pitstop in Galway and the needful pilgrimage to Charlie Byrnes before a final fogbound trip out to Cong in the dark.  I met  Rurai Kavanagh  Gianno Catalfamo and the man behind Congregation Eoin Kennedy for a quick drink, and a brief tour of Cong. Later that evening I chatted with Fiona Ash and Amanda Webb with a roaring fire, the Late Late Toy Show and conversation flowing.

Saturday was #Cong14 proper.  50 plus people registered in Ryans and were assigned to huddles for the the day.  This was where the key problem of Congregation presented itself. Too much good stuff across and too many good people. As chance would have it I spent three of my four huddles in ‘The Quite Cailin’.

Each of the huddles needs a post in itself. The idea was that over an hour two people would present their papers and the group would discuss in an open unconference type format. Our first huddle started with Maryrose Lyons talk “We need to talk about porn” and that is all we did for for the next hour. To the extent we hijacked the idea of a second talk and kept the discussion going.  Maryrose’s paper and talk gave me a lot of material to think about. She’s blogged a followup post about it

Things I learned in that first session include

  • Kids now first seeing porn at 11/12 v’s 17/18 20 yrs ago “like leaving a bag of heroin around the house and not talking about it”
  • Doctors treating erectile dysfunction used mostly treat men in their 40’s. Now treating more 18 year olds than 40 year olds
  • Porn is a neural and a cultural issue not a moral issue
  • Historical repressive Irish culture and not talking about sex meets 21st century technology is a danger
  • There are obvious links to online misogyny and abuse of women that comes with porn culture
  • Two studies in UK in 2011 and 2013 on “the sexualisation of culture” because of the concern over it
  • Snapchat and other things making porn a paying mechanism for 3rd level students

The thought that jumped into my head is – is porn and boys a parallel with girls and fashion and body image?  As someone else pointed out in both cases “it fucks with their heads”

There was a lot of deep ideas and sharing that came from everyone in the group on this topic. The only problem and it was the general problem of the day is that we didn’t get to talk about more of the topics.

My second huddle of the day was back in the Quite Cailin and summed up in this photo

  In our second talk Sean McGrath told us that the Cloud was a terrible thing to waste on content.

Starting with the idea that How do we get rid of the divide between business people and IT people those who can program? and expanding on the notion that at one level. Since Algol in 1960 everything in Computers in syntactic sugar. How do we reframe things to let billions participate ? Sean went on to point out that Excel was in many ways one thing that went beyond syntactic sugar and put power in peoples rather than programmers hands.

I learned of the phrase of a “Personal Event Network” and was reminded of Zapier and If This Then That in the description of “I want to be able to draw it and then run it, most solutions to the problem are attacking it the wrong way”

The core notion of if then else… and iteration are all computers need (for Turing complete programming environment) echoed this idea.  Its not to get rid of computer programming. Its to supplement it.

The thoughts went deep. And the question of serendipity came up as Sean’s learning of Python came due to a book being misfiled and a Barney doll. Something Bernie has expanded on.

Jazz, failed artists and Frank Herbert “you cannot understand a system by stopping it” were thoughts around the conversation.  I like the idea that we shouldn’t  stop systems to understand them, but rather we need to slow them down to look at them.

The second part of this session was the least well formed of the day. It was my own. My post was a rough draft and its only after the morning sessions and conversation I figured out what I was trying to say.  How can the digital and the social help the analog the the personal and the societal.  As Joe Kearns  deftly pointed out, with every technology we lose something but we should be gaining more than we lose.

Congregation itself is an example of where technology is linking people together in deeper and more important ways.

We had an interesting chat with Michelle of The Quite Cailin just before lunch. The Shop has a fair amount of technology powered from a Raspberry Pi and is looking to be self sustaining in electricity through the use of Solar Panels.

It’s a beautiful space.

Lunch was in Puddleducks Cafe where I learned a lot by listening to Robbie who chaired our morning huddles.  Little connections played back together with a project he’s working on at the moment in my home town.  Our third session of the day had me back in The Quite Cailin. I debated a particular painting when Michelle commented “Art, if its meant for you it’ll find you”.

We talked about the nature of value in the afternoon with Paul Killoran t starting from the concept of Aristotles 4 characteristics of Currency, (that it should be Durable, Divisible, Portable, and have Intrinsic Value). Paper money and breaking gold standard took us away from that intrinsic value. Bitcoin takes us another step away from that concept and Paul tore up a €5 note to demonstrate that the value of money is in our heads.  Money is the worlds largest religion. Its a belief system.  We examined questions of what has intrinsic value with one idea being the only thing that has intrinsic value has time. And we often lose focus on that when we focus too much on money.  Kingsley Aikens made some important points on inherited wealth and talked about  “the lucky sperm club” the heirs that will inherit 30 trillion in the US over next 30 years. 

There was a recommendation for the book “You are not so smart” by David McRaney on human cognitive biases and a very interesting comment from Gianni Catalfamo on the implications of Gödels incompleteness theorem for Bitcoin. That was one of the most intriguing question in a day of intriguing questions. 

The final huddle of the day was in the Rare and Recent Bookshop.  There was no obvious wifi code so I presumed there was none. (The owner later told me that no one had asked him for it.) So for the final huddle of the day I took some notes on the laptop.  Many topics came up. The question of Porn and online behaviour was discussed again as was the dangers in how teenagers can deal with suicidal ideation online. We talked about getting Irish businesses online. 47,000 of them have no online presence.  There is a need to break down barriers. And a large economic imperative with a lot of money leaving the country to companies in the UK. Averil Staunton of Historical Ballinrobe took us through that initiative and we learned of the challenges for technology in rural areas.  We discussed the the sharing of stories and a little about Storyful. 

After the group photo I explored the Rare and Recent Bookshop before a few drinks.

Dinner in Pat Cohan’s gave me an opportunity to catch up with Pauline Sargent and learn more about how some political parties are engaging or not locally.

There were all to brief conversations with too many. And lots of people I didn’t get to talk to at all. I need to dig into Caroline Lawless piece on managing online identity.  I missed the huddles on the issues with the Internet of Things some insights into what may be the best managed twitter account in Ireland Garda Traffic  and whether or not the postman has read my email and many more besides.

Some final thoughts

The social nature of social media, the challenges its poses and that it is all about people, people, people came through again and again in the papers and the  conversations.

If “Hashtags subvert hierarchy” is the new “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” then Congregation is a hearty stew of social serendipity takes you places that are important even if its not necessarily what you were expecting.

By serendipity I came across this by Steve Wheeler  writing on Ivan Illich. He quotes Illich

“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.”

Unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.

That is the definition of Congregation.