I am writing this from Camp Hex. Its Sunday, the very last day of the camp, and I am equal parts hungover, tired, sore from sleeping in a crappy bunk bed that's way too small, but mostly so incredibly happy, thankful and blissed out. I spent the last two days living in this perfect alternate reality with programming lessons, discussions, music hack sessions, 2D modelling projects, meme masterclasses, zine workshops & youtube karaoke fuelled by lots and lots of vegan snacks. I don't ever want this to end.
Camp Hex is a summer camp hosted by the music community Kapow Collective and the tech collective DO:TOPIA. Camp Hex is a weekend camp where we play with tech and digital DIY. We learn programming, how to create electronic music and how to defend our privacy online – and create a lot of cool activist projects together. First and foremost, we enjoy ourselves, lead discussions and celebrate building a community of tech-interested feminists and activists.
Creating and Nurturing a Community
The camp is structured so that all the participants create the content together. A lot of emphasis is placed on helping people not just learn, but also find the ideal topic to teach. Lots of participants have misgivings about this, especially if they are worried their skills aren't 'technical' enough, and as an organiser and workshop-planner, I saw it as one of my responsibilities to create an atmosphere where people felt good about sharing their interests whether that was knitting, gathering edible plants by the ocean or teaching how to build your own decentralised homemade version of the internet!
Brunch on the last day of camp
The feeling of community was also very much centered around the really practical task of nurturing people: food. Again this year we were lucky to have the most incredible chef to direct the kitchen. Katrine from Plantasma managed to plan all-vegan food for us all weekend that was incredibly delicious and made everyone come together around mealtimes. The preparation and cleanup after meals were tasks that all participants shared. Same as last year, people really wanted the kitchen shift, so they could learn some of Katrine's secrets. Her cooking sessions were in fact a vegan cooking masterclass with highlights such as, vegan yogurt and mayonnaise, how to make carrots taste like smoky sausages, the worlds' most perfect tofu scramble etc. etc.
She made a thing!
On Saturday, I spent most of the day in the 'stuff and things' workshop where people were connecting either arduino boards or raspberry pi's to make them do stuff. Lots of people working with motion sensors, and a few led strip experiments. Most people had the official arduino that worked immediately, but I used one that I was gifted. It turned out to be a cheap knockoff that didn't work before I installed a driver, which took a long time to figure out. Perhaps if I had been alone I would given up or lost interest before the issue was resolved. Here I had fun commiserating and debugging with all the other people in the workshop, many of whom had the exact same problem as me.
In the evening Kapow Collective did a DJ workshop which I didn't attend but really enjoyed listening in on. I especially loved the way people mixed in early aughts classics and blended it with sounds from homemade pedal and synthesizer instruments.
Seize the Memes of Production
The last workshop I did on Saturday turned out unexpectedly personal and emotionally cathartic. Maia hosted a meme masterclass. At first, I was just amused, as she peeled away the intricate layers of meaning and references in different popular meme types. I had seen most of these, but never really appreciated the deeper layers of meaning(lessness) they somehow also represent.
Then, as I had to try and make my own for the first time, things suddenly got super personal. It quickly became clear that I had to try and use this as an outlet for some of the frustration I have felt as a woman in tech. There are simply so many stereotypical situations. Same stupid shit repeats itself again and again when I attend tech meetups or conferences. Often, I experience something really dumb and absurd and don't know where to discuss it. I'm afraid of doing it too publicly because I'm scared of being labelled, and some of the offenders are people I know professionally so mostly I just grin and bare it. But that leaves me with a lot of pent-up frustration, which, it turns out, is perfectly suited for memes!
The first meme I made was in fact so personal and based so closely on stuff I experienced, that I can't quite share it publicly. Trust that it was funny and helped me work out some issues! Second meme was one Aslak helped me make. This one is a funny take on the experience I had with trying to hack the cheap chinese arduino to work.
I can tell that I will be making a lot of memes going forward. Its simply an incredible tool to help me deal with shit. I can make fun of things that, otherwise, when they accumulate, are soul-crushingly bad and can potentially drive someone like me out of the tech industry. I'd like to think that if I find ways of dealing with this with humor, I'll be able to stick around. This last one is related to this pretty rampant case of sexism I experienced when I visited a hacker space recently. LOL!
Don't Let it End
Camp Hex is this incredible utopian dream where we are all granted access to technology and no one is made to feel dumb or insufficient. I want the rest of my life to be like this!