Design notes from a tech conference built on "whimsy, spectacle, discovery, vulnerability, and emotion"

Sumana writes, "'Toward a !!Con Aesthetic describes !!Con, a NYC programming conference focusing on 'joyous, exciting, and surprising moments,' as a counterpublic in software culture. A longtime attendee looks at the subtexts, norms, and approaches that tie together !!Con's talks, including an emphasis on whimsy, spectacle, discovery, vulnerability, and emotion."

I hope here I've sketched the contours of a particular pro-subjectivity, pro-joy, anti-hierarchical, anti-dismissiveness approach to in-person tech talks and conferences that I see in the !!Con aesthetic. To the extent that mainstream programming culture stifles vulnerability and maintains an elitist hierarchy, !!Con is countercultural. If mainstream programming constitutes a public, then !!Con is a counterpublic — a "discursive arena" where we "formulate oppositional interpretations of our identities, interests, and needs". I developed my understanding of those identities, interests and needs through my own experience and from in-person and Twitter conversation with !!Con organizers, participants, speakers, and peers — thanks to everyone I spoke with.

I've found that participating at the Recurse Center, and spaces like it (such as !!Con), has made me a better programmer and a better person. I'm less afraid to try learning a new bit of technology, and to ask the questions I need to ask in order to learn. It's a lot easier to follow the effective learning strategies for programmers that Allison Kaptur describes because I've spent time in this sandbox where failure and surprise are valued. And those learning strategies apply outside programming, too — to music appreciation, interpersonal relationships, personal fitness, and more. At a recent family reunion, my mom told me I am calmer, less likely to turn a disagreement into an argument. I think one reason I've changed is that the attitude of curiosity and valuing diverse subjective experiences at RC helped train me to respond to a disagreement with more "could you tell me more about what leads you to that conclusion? Maybe I'm wrong" and less "HULK SMASH". (Mindfulness meditation helps too.)

Toward a !!Con Aesthetic
[Sumana Harihareswara/The Recompiler]