Gated Communities or Open Communities?
In the four days while listening to talks about gravitational waves, playing one
concert myself and talking to many people I came to think about a specific problem:
How can a small, vivid, and avantgardistic micro-society restrain the loss of grip and enthusiasm when suddenly becoming ‘cool’ and overrun by people from a different (in mean words = mainstream) culture?
This controversial subject is deeply connected to the
2015’s moto of the congress: Gated Communities. The Chaos Communication Congress are held since the mid-80s and evolved from a mostly-male, mostly-tech hacking oriented peer group in Germany. These events were in the beginning a special-interest event for some hundred hackers. Workshops and talks included foremost tech and IT-oriented topics like computer system security, hacking, or hardware related issues .
Since the mid-2000s the topics presented on the congress spread, focusing not only on pure technical hacking and IT-focused, but also on cultural and social topics. The congress and the people involved are a changing community and its worth discussing the limitations, openness to other communities and existing (both reasonable or obsolete) restrictions. Gated Communities.
Attracting the Masses
If its only correlation or actual causation – with the ongoing embarcing of ‘softer’ topics, the congress had a massive boost of visitors since 2011:
On the other hand you have a huge lounge and music area with a massive sound system and famous DJs playing all night. You have cultural and non-tech workshops for sewing and cooking. And there are plenty of big talks about cultural and social topics, like the controversial 2015’s keynote speech from Fatuma Afrah: Critics among the community complained about her chosen topic and style and general non-relevance for the community.
Trouble in Paradise
In the last years, a part of the tech-oriented hacker community around the Congress were discussing the loss of hacking-based themes towards a more cultural, social and art-based focus. This “not-a-hacker” complaint was, that people would crowd the congress and taking physical as well as content space in terms of talks and workshops.
Following this logic, the technic oriented folks would be pushed aside from discussing their in-depth technical topics. An often heard argument was that the congress is a community which should be in first place be for the IT-oriented hackers who build it, a special event and ‘save space’ to discuss technical topics. It should not be taken over by hippies, part-time nerds and in general people blurring and dilluting the tech-concept.
From my point of view this is a basic sociological challenge of balance in a micro society with different milieus. In a bigger and settled society (e.g. a state) this would be analog to different groups competing for limited resources: geographic ground, gentrification or the power to set social norms and opinions. Especially the last argument is directly related to the discussion inside the congress and hacker community: The tech and net-world is not known to have a genuinely progressive view on social topics like ‘political correctness’ or gender discussions (see e.g. Gamergate.
Critical Engineering Manifesto
One can argue that technology is a neutral tool which is in its very nature not loaded with social (e.g. discussions of gender or race) implications. But this is not true. Since technology and IT got such a big tool, it indisputably affects every single aspect of our lives. Technology and algorithms do inherit a social bias and social norms. Take for example the algorithms that create the Facebook Social Bubble. Or the controversial speculations about the involvement of Facebook-Ad-Algorithms in the US vote and the Brexit.
The engineers and programmers who build the tools and algorithms have the responsibility and power in shaping these tools according to social norms, independently of who pays for its creation. As the technology gets more complex, an elite is forming which is building and engineering these tools. Its the responsibility for those who do understand (engineers, programmers, scientists, hackers) to constantly explain the technology to the other milieus. This elite has to form the tools to their best knowledge and to the social norm set by the whole society, but also to question the tools. As the critical engineering manifesto puts it:
2. The Critical Engineer raises awareness that with each technological advance our techno-political literacy is challenged.
The CCC itself related to this subject in its own “Hackerethik” (German).
To sum this up: it is more important than ever to form a surroundings where this technological elite and micro-society is aware of not only the technological but also social and normative implications. The engineers and programmers currently shaping the world need to have in mind the bigger picture of the power and impact of their work. The Curators of the Chaos Communictaion Congress have a very well-balanced way of keeping a good ratio of social to tech-topics. We can only hope that groups and events like this are not just preaching to the converted but that they can create an awareness of responibility inside a bigger part of this technological elite.
 There is no “hard” data on how topics of CCC talks were distributed between tech and social topics. Still this was a developement that I heard from a lot of people attending the congresses longer than me.