How I learned to stop worrying and just do something.

Going to re:publica this year was an exercise in despondency. We were told, repeatedly that everything is broken, on fire and broken again. All our emails are readable, if not by state actors then by anyone who can buy enough botnet time to crack our fundamentally insecure passwords.

For those going to the stream that focused on the politics of European institutions, the news wasn’t much better. With movements like UKIP and AfD making headway across Europe and the perceived inefficiency and democratic deficit of the EU and the difficulties of understanding let alone influencing the byzantine structures of policy negotiations made it sound as though there is no forthcoming European revolution of happiness.

But, as many of the keynote speakers made clear, Europe is the space where a lot of these decisions are being played out. From the “right to be forgotten”, Germany’s data protection principles and the UK’s government sector, European countries are experimenting with being networked countries without necessarily following the US model.

One of the most interactive sessions was from Oxfam, talking about the pitfalls of charities unused to digital projects and how best to explain some of the problems that they are likely to encounter. The biggest problem being a lack of understanding from senior staff on what a digital project entails, be that hosting, build, agile processes, continuous delivery or the fact that open source is best when you feed back into it.

For me this got to the heart of the conference — there are a huge number of things happening in the politics of the internet right now: Peng Collective’s anti-sexism bot as a small scale piece of activism, facebook as the channel of digital identity that the European Parliament uses most to engage with people — the key is involvement in communities, even if the actions aren’t immediately huge.

At Wunder, we’ve been contributing back to the drupal community for its next big release (drupal 8). We’re doing it because it makes the world a little better.

There are a lot of things that are broken with the internet, especially around privacy, and these questions are only going to get more complicated as we get more IoT devices in our lives recording more data about our lives. Sometimes these problems can seem insurmountable because of their size. But if we learn anything from sprint planning sessions, it is that big problems can be broken down.

The digital world can be fixed with participation, from everyone, on everything. We’re getting involved with what we know best, and we’d encourage you to do the same. Let’s hope that next year at re:publica, we see the fruits of action and a more hopeful vision of politics and the internet start to take shape.

All photos CC-by the author.

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