October 5, 2015

XOXO 2015 - The Best Conference I've Ever Been To

When I first heard about the XOXO Festival, it was described with a mysterious and mystical air, an elusive and exclusive technology conference in Portland. You had to fill out a form to get the opportunity to go and it boasted speakers AND attendees that were movers and shakers in the tech world. I imagined it was like a turnkey Burning Man camp.

I've had the good fortune of attending Burning Man twice, in 2012 and 2014, so I figured, hell, why not give it a shot, I'm a pretty diverse and interesting individual, maybe I have a shot at buying tickets in the lottery. And it was the best four days I've spent surrounded by strangers with a schedule of activities. Yes, even better than tour-guided vacations.

The very first night, I met Sophie & Jenni from New Zealand and pretty much spent some part of every day of XOXO hanging out with them. They were fun, laid back, and it was easy to feel comfortable around them.

While wandering around looking at the VR games, we saw Brian Fetter and his sister Laura Fetter, who were repping shirts from Brian's game Keep Talking And No One Explodes and looking for people to demo the game. Luckily, we saw them right before they set up shop and pretty much hung out with them for the next hour. Pat Kemp (my partner) and Brian talked video game shop, while Laura and I had a leisurely conversation about all sorts of things and demoed the game to the couple of curious people that wandered past.

Was a blur of social events, meeting people, and DAN DEACON.

Ground Kontrol was free to play, so I got to play some more Killer Queen. I much prefer the setup at the Cards Against Humanity office in Chicago because it allows for more smack talk as well as sportsmanship.

And then I got to experience the joyous wonder that is Dan Deacon. This statement from Dan Deacon's Wikipedia page sums up, but in no way accurately describes, the experience of attending a Dan Deacon concert:
Deacon is renowned for his live shows, where large-scale audience participation and interaction is often a major element of the performance.
As I've been telling people, it was like a giant ice breaker performance art with the two hundred or so attendees of the concert. Afterwards, I was exhilarated and exhausted, my hands hurt, and I couldn't wait to wash my hands extremely thoroughly. I absolutely love performance art and being able to interact authentically with strangers and feel part of a whole. I also had the pleasure of giving Dan Deacon a high-five. I didn't want him to feel left out of the beautiful thing he created.

The start of two days crammed full of inspiring and heart-provoking talks that gave glimpses into the struggles and victories of people from all corners of the creative technology ecosystem. On Saturday I learned "You can better show a thing than explain it."

I was impressed by the diversity of the speakers as well as the diversity of the conference attendees. Apparently, 47% of the attendees were women.

I was extremely fortunate to stumble upon and experience &maybetheywontkillyou, in which you role-play as a black teenager going to the store. It was made by Akira Thompson and I really enjoyed chatting with him afterwards. It's been one of main things I bring up when talking to people about XOXO as an example of an important and necessary creative outreach that should be supported and that space should be made for.

I had a delicious dinner with Samantha Kalman and we talked about the future of Invisible Arcade, an event that I've been helping her put on in Seattle.

Started with the best breakfast burrito I have ever had. Even better, while we were waiting for it from the Fried Egg, I'm in Love food truck conveniently located by our AirBnB, we got to chat with Lucy Bellwood, a delightful individual who did all of the live sketches of the XOXO talks.

On Sunday I learned "Our designs are value systems."

I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch with a small group that included Andrew FergusonTony ZhouSpike Trotman, and Nicky Case, all of whom were fun and interesting to talk to. At one point, we had an entire table discussion on the difficult question of whether or not to have kids. From the conversation, Tony recommended that I watch (in order) Rosemary's BabyThe Babadook, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. I watched the first two just yesterday, back to back and am waiting for the third from the library. So far, I'm no less fearful of having kids, but the good news is that I'm no more fearful of having kids than before either.

At the Electric Objects Salon, one of its curators, Darius Kazemi, gave a tour of the exhibit, which was fascinating, especially because I had gone through the exhibit on my own earlier and missed so so much of the backstories behind each piece. Also, I love tours.

Finally, I spent much of the rest of the night, and a couple of hours on Monday, talking to Rachel Nabors and had her draw on my XOXO badge.

In Conclusion...
XOXO to me was a four day conversation that I had about my place in the world and how I can make it better. I was deeply inspired and humbled by all of the authentic and engaged discussions that I had with everyone that I met, not just those that I mentioned here. If you ever get a chance to go, I would challenge you to take every opportunity to talk with someone because at its core, XOXO is about people.