When my friend Charlotte's mom asked her why I was flying to Hamburg after Christmas, she explained that I was going to a sort of "geek conference about hacking". While this might not be the most accurate description of the annual Chaos Communication Congress, I think it conveys the spirit of the community just fine.
This was my first time at 3C. Anders, whom I first met in Stockholm via Couchsurfing in 2010, has been going every year for the past eight years with a steadily-growing group of
friends pilgrim-goers. Now having experienced it myself, I can only understand why.
This 32nd edition brought about 12,000 nerds, hackers, free software advocates, crypto-people, hardware programmers, activists and artists together in a huge, insanely well-organized four-day congress the likes of which I've never seen before. Even more than the many thought-provoking talks and discussions, I was impressed by the fact that the entire thing is volunteer-run and community-supported. Everything. No employees, no corporate sponsorships. In fact, as far as I know, it's the biggest event of the sort anywhere in the world.
It’s also a very welcoming community and veterans (like Anders) make it very easy for newcomers (like myself) to feel at home and join in on the fun.
3C is indeed a "geek conference" in that, basically, it's a community of nerds and geeks sharing their passion for X with other engaged nerds and geeks. X could be anything: a multi-platform GUI for pass, the unix CLI password manager; a study of the Stasi photo archives; a discussion on EU policies on net neutrality; Tor and hidden services; Red Star, North Korea’s state-developed OS; Let's Encrypt, an open, free certification authority; the widespread (and misguided) attack on encryption by world governments; the (worryingly) increasing restrictions on freedom in France; the slow death of the open web; quantum physics and relativity. It's a lot to take in.
Apart from the official talks and the 5-minute lightning talks that any member of the community can sign up to deliver, there are lots of other events and activities within 3C. The entire place is also a hackerspace for people working on 3D printing, Raspberry Pi and arduino projets, analog pixel-screens, dinner-making robots, lock-picking. All of this, of course, complemented by a liberal supply of Club Mate and Flora-Power bottles that, once empty, you can drop at one of the many, many recycling containers placed all over the Congress centre (once again, by volunteers).
The 3C Media team uploads every talk, with subtitles in German or English, to its server. (If you guys ever read this: thank you!) I couldn’t go to all the talks I wanted — there were far too many — but these are my personal highlights from the ones I did attend:
Internet Landscapes (Evan Roth)
I loved that in Evan Roth’s work, he manages to convey that sense of fascination and wonder that we all felt when we first discovered the Internet.
What does Big Brother see, while he is watching? (Simon Menner)
From the official description:
... Over the course of three years, I was able to research the archives left by East Germany's Stasi to look for visual memories of this notorious surveillance system and more recently I was invited to spend some weeks looking at the archive by the Czechoslovak StB. Illustrating with images I have found during my research, I would like to address the question why this material is still relevant – even 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
One year of securitarian drift in France (taziden, Adrienne Charmet)
Taziden of la Fédération FDN and Adrienne of La Quadrature du Net explain the worrying reaction of the French government in restricting civil liberties in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and November 13 attacks in Paris.
Safe Harbor (Max Schrems)
A presentation of the European Court of Justice’s ruling to invalidate Safe Harbour agreements in light of NSA mass surveillance, by the the Austrian "guy who sued Facebook and won". It’s a bit more complicated than that but Max Schrems has a terrifically entertaining way of explaining everything very clearly.
Ten years after ‘We Lost the War’ (rop, frank)
A thought-provoking and sobering lecture by Rop Gonggrijp and Frank Rieger on the state of our world at the turn of 2015. From the official description:
The talk „We Lost The War“ was presented at Congress ten years ago, causing quite a stir. It was a prediction of a dark future that did not sit well with many people, but unfortunately many predictions have come true meanwhile. This talk will try to address what comes next, as well as what the hacker community can do to make things better.
Those were just five of over a 150 talks on a wide variety subjects, including:
- The state of internet censorship
- Social innovation in favelas
- Overcoming common UX/usability obstacles
- The exhaust emissions scandal ("Dieselgate")
- Amiga hardware design and programming
- The evolution of brain-computer interfaces
- Vector retrogaming
- Tor onion services
- Discrimination and ethics in a data-driven society
- Quantenphysik und Kosmologie (in German)
Intellect and Romance over Brute Force and Cynicism
Craig Ferguson once described Doctor Who as "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism". I don't watch Doctor Who (yet), but I think this would be a fitting description of the aspirations of the Chaos Communication Congress community. Intellect and romance (or here, passion for learning and sharing) over brute force (oppression and aggression) and cynicism.
Information over ignorance, critical thinking over rhetoric, play over consumption.
See you next year for 33c3!
Shout out to Anders, V, Alex, Anne and André — it was lots of fun hanging out with you crazy cats! And always remember, a man in the middle attack can come from anywhere ;)