Why Eyeo [festival]?

Dave Schroeder
Apr 19, 2019 · 11 min read
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Eyeo Festival 2012 (Photo by Chloe Fan)

In the late 90’s I was worked at a small fry recording studio in Detroit. I had access to it anytime it wasn’t open for business. I recorded a lot of goofy tunes back then thinking one of them might eventually take over the world. Around 1997 some musician in the studio told me about the Burning Man Festival and it intrigued me a lot. Don’t worry — this isn’t about Burning Man. I’ve never been. But I was intrigued by the idea of getting off the grid. I figured it would be good fodder for another instant world-classic, world-uniting tune: No Code. It featured a lot of cosmic mimiMOOG. The chorus: “In a digital nation the only dope is no code” implying that life on the grid would eventually be totally pre-programmed thanks to the obvious path [that then] developing technologies like an internet and 2G cell phones would take society. Don’t get me started on the power of CD-ROMs. Genius I thought. The curse of any age is that you’re always trying to sound smarter than you are. Time thankfully reveals your genius was kinda really just a big block of cheesy cheese.

The point is, even back in 1997 I thought and cared about the effects technology might have on the world around us. And appreciated Burning Man as a rebellion to the pre-programmed society we were all headed for. Doomed! Bunch of digital zombies. And the tune was catchy. To me. Only me.

So let’s catch up in time and talk a little bit the Eyeo Festival which I’ve been overseeing since it started. In 2011, Jer Thorp, Wes Grubbs, Julian Dolce and I just wanted to put together the event we wish existed. (Julien moved onto other things. Caitlin Hargarten came on in 2013 and has been here since. I love this team. Oh and Wes is on sabbatical for 2019.) We were interested in creative coding, dataviz, art, and really appreciated the philosophy behind open-source tools. And we were admirers of a lot of people doing just really, really impressive and creative things with technology.

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The first Eyeo Festival took place in 2011.

I came up with the name, Eyeo, which doesn’t mean anything specific, but riffs on the idea of eye-opening and I/O at the same time. It’s non-specific on purpose. We wanted the flexibility to evolve. Freedom to present both timely content as tech and trends develop and also just things we feel jazzed about in any given year. And that fluidity over the years is one thing I love about Eyeo. In any given year the range of topics and speakers can be wildly varied from other years. (We still hover around the original areas of interest for sure. And we do often repeat speakers — for which we have a secret, strategic reason that I won’t divulge here.)

But, but…that fluidity also can make it tricky for me to explain what Eyeo is to people. Yeah me of all people — it’s embarrassing. I frequently get inquiries along the lines of “Hey I’m into X, Y and Z. Should I come to Eyeo?” and I don’t always have an fast answer. Could be a midwesterner thing and I’m just real afraid to over-promise and set someone up for disappointment. I need to work on that. Typically my response/advice is that you have to look at the speakers and what they make, think, and do and decide for yourself. Given feedback from attendees over the years, sometimes it’s the people who don’t do exactly what you do that will inspire you the most or have the greatest effect on how you do what you do. Also Eyeo isn’t just about who’s on stage. Eyeo attendees are passionately involved with so many different cool things! A conversation you have with an attendee might be your game changing moment at Eyeo.

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The 2016 Code+Activism Summit (Photo by Hannah Wei)

A bit more about content at Eyeo. I can’t think of better way than a bullet list to do this. Sorry. Over the years we’ve covered a range of topics:

  • Data — Viz/Design/Collection
  • Creative Code
  • Interactive Installations
  • Projection Mapping
  • Glitch
  • Physical Computing
  • AR/VR/Immersive Experiences
  • AI/ML
  • Maps
  • Social Justice & Activism
  • Sculpture
  • E-textiles and Tech-Enabled Fashion
  • Generative Art
  • Space
  • Mapping
  • Journalism & Tech
  • Music Technology
  • Privacy and Ethics
  • Libraries & Tech
  • Pioneers of Computer Art
  • and other things I’m forgetting
  • Oh and, How to Do Nothing

It’s so tempting to name drop some of the inspiring people we’ve had share amazing talks about these subjects at Eyeo. But instead I just added a complete list to the end of this post. I’m sure you’ll see some names you recognize. Look a bit into the ones you don’t. You’ll be happy you did. (I know — I just totally cheated. It’s like carpet name-dropping.)

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Closing night of Eyeo 2016 with the speakers on stage. (Photo by Hannah Wei)

Eyeo speakers present work that’s beautiful, poetic, thought provoking, entertaining, or just really, really cool. Like in the “Wow! — How did they do that? — Can’t wait to get my hands on one of those gadgets!” way. And that’s a good thing. We love it. It’s good to be excited by the magic and potential of tech. Especially in the creative applications of tech.

At the same time, Team Eyeo has also always been a bit critical and skeptical of the promise of tech. We’ve seen technologies and platforms transform culture during the last 9 years on scales both global and national, and change our interpersonal and individual behaviors. Eyeo is also a time to reflect critically on how the tech we’re exposed to, we utilize, that we engineer and architect, affect the world around us. A time to think about the future and how we choose to shape it. (See how I brought this back to my big hit, No Code, from 1997? Thank you very much. You get a CD-ROM.) The point is at Eyeo we like to believe the future isn’t on auto-pilot, and creative technology folks might have more agency in shaping it than they think.

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(Photo by Daniel Doherty)

What’s it like when you come to Eyeo? Well, you’ll meet people. On Monday you might be in a pre-festival workshop tinkering with an introduction to Friendly Machine Learning, or Livecoding Visuals with open-source Hydra, or at the Code+Libraries Summit engaging in conversations about how Libraries and Coders can work together to create new forms of collaboration. That evening all 600+ of you will show up to a theater and when I walk out on stage it’ll take me at least 5 minutes to get you all to shut up cause you’ve already found someone you’re really interested in talking to. And I’m not that interesting frankly. Then you’ll spend a few days soaking up inspiring talks, joining attendee led meet-ups, checking out attendee show&tell sessions over lunch, talking to speakers after talks, eating dinner or sharing a cab with strangers on the way to becoming friends. And by Friday morning you’ll be probably a little bit exhausted, maybe mentally overloaded, but itching to get back home and start working on some new thing that you’re fired up about. Mission accomplished. Converge to inspire.

So join us. Come to the Eyeo Festival this year. (Look at me Mom! I’m selling it! Really selling it!)

I’ll wrap it up with a few things I love about Eyeo.

1. The people this event has brought together over the years, onstage and off, creates an amazing atmosphere for 4 days of the year. I love seeing people come together and exchange ideas and knowledge around things they’re passionate about. It feels good folks. Expanding your community is always a good thing. Certainly worth a mention here: We strongly believe in diversity and inclusivity at Eyeo. It’s better with everyone.

B. One thing that just humbles me every year are the speakers. They come in madly prepared for their talks. They share their processes but also share so much in the way of ideas and their thinking. And then they’re just always game to hang out, blend in with the rest of us and enjoy the festival. I don’t ask them to do that. I think they just like the vibe of it all and appreciate it. That adds a community feeling to the event that I love.

3. Setting up chances for inspiration and seeing attendees get something special out of attending Eyeo. Quick story. In 2012 an attendee came up to me and let me know that after attending Eyeo in 2011 she decided to change her course of study and had all new career ambitions. That’s gold to us. Here a person was exposed to some idea at Eyeo, recognized a passion for it, and the potential to pursue it. It changed her life! That’s why Eyeo is so rewarding and I (we) feel so great about making it happen. The mission is simple. Converge to Inspire.

So get a ticket and join us in June. eyeofestival.com


Here’s the name dropping I promised:

  • Aaron Koblin • • Adam Bly • • Adam Harvey • • Adrien Segal • • Afroditi Psarra • • Alex Beim • • Alexander Chen • • Alexander Porter • • Alexis Lloyd • • Ali Momeni • • Allison Parrish • • Amanda Cox • • Amit Pitaru • • Amor Munoz • • Andrew Bell • • Andy Gilmore • • Anil Dash • • AnnMarie Thomas • • Anouk Wipprecht • • Ariel Waldman • • Arturo Castro • • Ashkan Soltani • • Ayah Bdeir • • Ayo Okunseinde • • Beatrice Lartigue • • Ben Fry • • Ben Rubin • • Ben Vershbow • • Bill Aktinson • • Blacki Migliozzi • • Brady Forrest • • Bre Pettis • • Brian House • • Burak Arikan • • Carlos Garcia • • Caroline Sinders • • Casey Reas • • Cedric Sam • • Cesar Hildalgo • • Charlie Loyd • • Chris Cheung • • Chris Sugrue • • Claire Evans • • Cod.Act • • Daito Manabe • • Dan Goods • • Danah Boyd • • Daniel Shiffman • • Darius Kazemi • • David Ha • • David Wicks • • Deb Chachra • • Deray Mckesson • • Derek Watkins • • Dynamicland • • Elliot Woods • • Emily Gobeille • • Eric Fischer • • Eric Gunther • • Eric Rodenbeck • • Eva Franch i Gilabert • • Evelyn Eastmond • • Everest Pipkin • • Fernanda Viegas • • Field.io • • Francis Tseng • • Frieder Nake • • Gabriele Rossi • • Gene Kogan • • Gilberto Esparza • • Golan Levin • • Google Data Arts Team • • Greg J. Smith • • Hannah Davis • • Hannah Perner-Wilson • • Harlo Holmes • • Heather Dewey-Hagborg • • Heather Knight • • Hyphen Labs • • Ingrid Burrington • • Invincible ill Weaver • • Ivan Poupyrev • • Jake Barton • • Jake Porway • • James George • • James Paterson • • Jane Friedhoff • • Janelle Shane • • Janet Abrams • • Jason Salavon • • Jason Sigal • • Jen Christiansen • • Jen Lowe • • Jenna Fizel • • Jennifer Daniel • • Jennifer McCoy • • Jennifer Pahlka • • Jenny Odell • • Jer Thorp • • Jess Engel • • Jesse Kriss • • Jesse Louis-Rosenberg • • Jessica Haggy • • Jessica Rosenkrantz • • Joanie Lemercier • • John Keefe • • John Keston • • John Rothenberg • • John Underkoffler • • Jonathan Harris • • Jonathan Minard • • Josh Begley • • Josh Noble • • Julian Oliver • • Justin Manor • • Kamal Sinclair • • Karsten Schmidt • • Kate Hartman • • Kate Sicchio • • Kate Zwaard • • Kawandeep Virdee • • Kevin Connor • • Kevin McCoy • • Kevin Slavin • • Kim Rees • • Kipp Bradford • • Kristin Neidlinger • • Kyle McDonald • • Laszlo Barabasi • • Laura Kurgan • • Lauren McCarthy • • Leah Buechley • • Liam Young • • Libs Elliot • • Lillian Schwartz • • Lindsay Grace • • Lisa Strausfeld • • Luke DuBois • • Lynn Cherny • • Manoush Zomorodi • • Manuel Lima • • Marcin Ignac • • Marcus Wendt • • Marek Tuszynski • • Maria Scileppi • • Mariani Santos • • Mario Klingemann • • Marius Watz • • Mark Hansen • • Martin Wattenberg • • Mary Huang • • Matt Adams • • Matt Cottam • • Matt Mitchell • • Mauricio Giraldo • • Maya Ganesh • • Meejin Yoon • • Melissa Mongiat • • Memo Akten • • Meredith Whitaker • • Micha Elizabeth Scott • • Michael Chang • • Michael Krzywinski • • Mike Bostock • • Mike Mcgusrky • • Milica Zec • • Mimi Son • • Mimo Onuoha • • Molly Wright Steenson • • Moreshin Allahyari • • Moritz Stefaner • • Mouna Andraos • • Natalie Jeremijenko • • Nathalie Miebach • • Nathaniel Raymond • • Neil Mendoza • • Nervous System • • Nicholas Felton • • Nick Hardeman • • Nicky Case • • Nicole He • • Oblong • • Paola Antonelli • • Paolo Ciuccarelli • • Patricio Gonzalez Vivo • • Promo Code = medium10p • • Rachel Binx • • Rafael Lozano-Hemmer • • Ramsey Nasser • • Ranjit Bhatnagar • • Rebecca Fiebrink • • Reuben Margolin • • Reza Ali • • Ricardo Cabello • • Robert Hodgin • • Robin Sloan • • Roman Verostko • • Sage Crump • • Salome Asega • • Sam Sinyangwe • • Sands Fish • • Santiago Ortiz • • Sara Hendren • • Sarah Williams • • Scott Davidoff • • Scott Murray • • Scott Snibbe • • Seb Lee-Delisle • • Sermad Buni • • Sha Hwang • • Shannon Mattern • • Shantell Martin • • Shazna Nessa • • Sissel Tolaas • • SoSoLimited • • Sparkfun • • Stefanie Posavec • • Stephanie Hankey • • Steve Lambert • • Surya Mattu • • Taeyoon Choi • • Tahir Hemphill • • Tali Krakowsky • • Tangible Interaction • • Tania Condiani • • Tega Brain • • Teju Cole • • Theo Watson • • Vera-Maria Glahn • • Wes Grubbs • • Wesley Taylor • • Winslow Porter • • Xin Liu • • Yuri Suzuki • • Zach Lieberman •
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