dConstruct: The final chapter!

Reading time: 5 mins

According to the dConstruct archive, the previous iteration of the conference was in 2015. 2015! My digital footprint tells me that I wasn't able to make it as I was speaking at a small web event in some Kentish woods, and so my last attendance was in 2014, a year that I remember vividly for the content being exceedingly post-apocalyptic and even more brain-melting than usual. Poor, sweet, naive 2014 Sally had no idea what would eventually be coming down the line in the real world...

Fast forward to the end of 2019, and I bought my ticket for “this” dConstruct when I was staying on my own in a tiny flat in Tokyo, still working at Monzo, and when the world was on the cusp of changing forever. Needless to say, the conference didn’t go ahead as originally planned in September 2020, but two years later we all found ourselves gathering at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse, ready for another dose of the future.

If my last dConstruct left me feeling a bit doom and gloom, this year to me felt like there was a lot of hope and positivity. According to one of the speakers, Jeremy had given a loose theme of “transformation”, and that came through in waves of feel good vibes: you can get your design on a space ship, you can have incredible visual experiences even if blind, there are people working on 10,000 year time horizons and capturing important work for the future. Basically, after some difficult years, we’re all going to be ok.

If you’d like to get a full feel for it, you’ll have to keep your eye on archive.dconstruct.org and watch out for the audio recordings, but some of the bits that I particularly enjoyed included:

  • the concept of a 100 year plan, including how to “survive economics and corporate whimsy”
  • thinking of “letterforms as tiny universes”, and the simple genius of water calligraphy with dye added after the fact
  • to ask yourself why an experience was interesting, and to take that onwards
  • taking learnings from architecture, the rules of social cohesion, and applying that to togetherness online
  • hearing about the “Clock of the Long Now”, and the contrast between thinking in terms of the Long Now and microseconds
  • wrapping my head around what the dreamachine experience must be like, and wondering what I’d make of it

There were a lot of reference to the importance of humanity amongst the tech solutions, and this meshed nicely with feelings about my time down in Brighton. Like many, this was my first conference since COVID. Hell, it was basically one of a handful of trips anywhere further afield since COVID, and I really felt it. I’ve got very rusty at conference small talk, I felt socially awkward and worried about coming across rude on numerous occasions, after a 4am start I felt exhausted from endless interactions. But it was also wonderful.

From a brief chat with Jeremy, through to my teenage internet friend-turned fellow industry person Anna, to local friend and Good For Nothing-er Gaz, former Monzo colleague Paul, Farewill colleague Andrew, endless friendly faces like Paul, Shane, Nick, Gareth… so many others from other events around the world, plus new faces to get to know… it felt SO nice to reconnect in physical form. Despite the energy drain, in my short trip I also managed to cram in a visit to see another ex-Farewill colleague Charlotte and her dog, and some non-webby friends and their baby. Phew!

I sat on the beach alone for quite some time on Saturday, and reflected on other little, very human-feeling moments from the trip. The relief from a waiter who offered me any table, but I said I’d just have the one already made up. The gratitude from the couple I moved table at another restaurant for, so they could fit their dog in. A couple on the beach failing to prop up their phone to take a selfie so I offered to take it for them. Buying a homeless person on the street a warm breakfast. These little fleeting moments from the weekend all sat with me in a way that outweighed other similar ones in the past.

I love working remotely, and it’s something that’s become increasingly important to my life and career. Technology has helped massively here. But it’s also become very apparent to me just how isolated I am in my little Suffolk wilderness, which has been exacerbated by illness, a pandemic, pregnancy, and recovery. And apparently, all the technology in the world can’t quite match up to the feelings of human connection and those little moments you get when giving out small morsels of kindness, being able to actually live a fairly normal life in a place with better covid-safer infrastructure, or spending a day at an excellently soundtracked conference with like-minded people.

Just as the talks at this year’s conference cautioned against the overuse of tech solutions and stressed the importance of connections to people, I too came away recommitted to the human side of the tech industry; to do more outside of the social media likes, group chats, Slack messages, and video calls. (Even if I have to continue to stomach appearing to be the sole paranoid weirdo still wearing a mask)

So on the human front I’m especially sad that this is the last dConstruct. dConstruct has always been of exceptional caliber, and there’s not anything else quite the same to fill its shoes/mag boots. I’ll miss having the excuse to go down to Brighton and hear some brain-melting design and technology-related talks from amazing speakers. But more than that I’ll miss the takeaways it sparks in my brain that I get to take home and bring to life, and I’ll miss the many great interactions with people that it has facilitated.

Thanks dConstruct. I’ll miss you.