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Webstock 2014 Offers Business Advice With Caveats

Webstock 2014 Offers Business Advice With Caveats

By Jamie Neikrie


This past week Wellington welcomed technology experts from across the world for the ninth annual Webstock conference.


As well as helping fuel Wellington’s tech surge, Webstock has been hailed as one of the premier technology conferences in the world, known for its diverse, dynamic speakers.


This years conference featured young upstarts like Hannah Donovan, tech industry rebels like Maciej Ceglowski, and veterans like graphic designer Paula Scher.


Webstock tends to focus more on the business and creative side of the industry than the technical aspects. You will never hear instructions for writing code or constructing complicated algorithms at Webstock, a style that has its detractors. At $1500 a ticket, some participants feel that they should come away with concrete information or training that would take months if they attempted to learn the material on their own.
Others feel that the tone and substance of the talks made the conference more accessible and universal to everyone in the tech industry, not just coders and programmers.


Within that framework, the conference hosted guests from across the tech spectrum, from graphic designers to music aficionados to social programmers. Scoop was lucky enough to attend the conference’s closing day, which featured out-of-the-box talks from South African electronic musician Spoek Mathambo and Tom Loosemore, who helped create the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service, which will soon serve as the blueprint for New Zealand’s government websites.


While many of the talks featured uplifting tips like “Let actions create motivation,” or “Start with something shit,” there seemed to be a dark undertone to this year’s conference.


Many of the closing day’s guests, including Ceglowski and designer Sha Hwang used their platform to offer a warning to the sold-out crowd. With the recent revelations about the United States’ metadata collection program, they offered the sentiment that the tech industry has become corrupted and co-opted. Hwang described the feeling as “a loss of innocence.”


Cegloski, among others, focused on the dark underbelly of the tech industry’s business side. Waxing nostalgically for the days when the tech industry was a plucky upstart on the fringe of the business world, Cegloski told the story of Victor Theremin, whose inventions were repeatedly stolen and used by the Russian government to spy on their enemies. The message in short: we have created a dangerous tool.


Melodramatics aside, Ceglowski is right about the industry’s success. Apple is the most valuable company in the world. Google, behind dozens of highly publicized purchases of other tech companies, just passed Exxon Mobil as the second most valuable company. Webstock, for its part, recognizes that the tech industry offers a world of wealth and power. And it embraces that fact by focusing on business and creative processes.


In 2005, when Webstock began here in Wellington, the tech industry was the upstart Ceglowski described. Since then, as the industry has flourished, so has Wellington, behind companies like Xero. There is no question that technology is a slippery slope, and that we need better laws to regulate it, to protect it from corruption. But, given the choice, would any tech insider really want to turn back the clock on the industry’s progress. Sha put it best when he said, “We are no longer looking from the outside. We already won.”

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