Oslo Freedom Forum: The best Bitcoin conference that isn’t about Bitcoin

The NFT Unicorn 5e8614f8-fedf-4a24-b520-554099fe42ee Oslo Freedom Forum: The best Bitcoin conference that isn’t about Bitcoin Crypto News

I attended more than a dozen conferences in 2023 and at least 15 in 2022. I hosted several of these events as a garishly dressed MC, moderating panels and trying my utmost to hide my Bitcoin (BTC) maxi bias. I also cobbled together quizzes, game shows, and talks to stimulate and provoke audiences to think a little differently.

So I know a little bit about conferences, networking events and how to capture and carry an audience.

When I look back on these moments, from the World Economic Forum in Davos to El Salvador’s Adopting Bitcoin, the Web Summit in Lisbon, and AfroBitcoin in Ghana, there is not a single event that compared to the Oslo Freedom Forum, which I attended earlier this June.

From Oslo to the World

Set in Norway’s sleepy, sophisticated capital, the Oslo Freedom Forum is a thought spectacle. You flop into the Oslo Concert Hall at 10 a.m., bleary-eyed and hazy after interactions with freedom fighters and bitcoiners into the small yet alarmingly bright hours. You then travel from your chair around the planet, delving into deeper and deeper human experiences.

Related: Brian Armstrong promised me $100 in Bitcoin — so where is it?

Nowhere in the universe can you find such an interesting, inspiring, or energized group of individuals. Activists and entertainers from all four corners of the globe take to the stage to practice and cultivate their freedom of speech. The coming together of these minds and the clash and fizz of ideas create an energy unlike anything I’ve experienced.

From Rwanda to Palestine, Uganda to Ukraine, you’re floored, moved to tears, silenced, and enraged. You surprise yourself by guffawing at deadpan jokes. Your mind blackens at the thought of Iranians stripped of their freedom to sing in their home country — all while an Iranian operatic singer stirs the audience in Norway, thousands of miles away. Personally, I was bowled over by the professionalism that went into delivering such an engaging, well-polished spectacle.

Satoshi would be proud

The conversations that splinter and shoot off from the show range from trans debates and genital mutilation to war, famine, and heroism. I did my best to field the Bitcoin questions: “What is a Bitcoin CoinJoin? Is it really private?” I was asked this by a team member from Hong Kong who is fighting to free an activist from jail.

While the third day of the conference was largely dedicated to Bitcoin and financial freedom tools, Bitcoin advocates including Lyn Alden also graced the main stage to discuss NOSTR, algorithms, and control. Bitcoin is not the focus of the event, although Twitter founder Jack Dorsey did well to remind us of the protocol’s importance, wearing his trademark Satoshi/Nirvana t-shirt on the main stage.

Jack Dorsey and Lyn Alden discuss Nostr and Bitcoin at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Source: Youtube Screenshot

These ideas and discussions left me stirring late at night. In fact, my sleep tracker tells me I averaged 5 hours of shut-eye per night in Norway — mostly light and seldom deep. Unfortunately, the deprivation is not to be blamed on the uncharacteristically raucous Norway nightlife that transforms the city during the forum.

Indeed, the experiences to be had off-stage are unique and countless.

I took a selfie with a legendary Colombian musician right before dancing to his crooning songs in the foyer of what looked like a library. The space was at once engulfed by adoring Latino fans and bewildered North Europeans.

Related: CBDCs’ threat to freedom put under the microscope at Oslo conference

I accidentally peed next to a prolific, exiled Indian journalist and had a nice chat, and learned — visually — how the world’s biggest brands and governments launder money.

I shook Jack Dorsey’s hand for the first time and decided to take my shot. I invited him to surf the world’s biggest wave with me — Nazaré — in Portugal. (It’s a “No” — at least for now.)

I also delighted in a sauna and fjord experience with not one but two legendary pseudonymous Bitcoin advocates, as well as many other enriching experiences that should not be shared publicly.

On a professional note, I have Bitcoin leads coming out of my ears. As a Bitcoin journalist, I am so excited to bring to life more Bitcoin documentaries and insights into freedom technologies in the real world. My next stops are Ukraine, Bolivia, and Venezuela. There are so many untold stories of strife, survival, financial freedom and joy — so much joy.

Fighting Fear with Joy

As the CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum, Thor Halvorssen described in his opening speech, that the event is not the “Pain Olympics.” We can find joy and laughter in the darkness. And we must.

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Paco de la India at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Source: Joe Hall

I met Thor briefly at the after-party and tried to put into words how remarkable the space is. “It’s like a TED conference on steroids,” I tried to explain. I worked for TED in 2015 as a master’s student at the University of Edinburgh so know their formula well — but it’s an unfair comparison. Comparing it to TED doesn’t scratch the surface of the emotional depth and range on offer at the forum. 

Nonetheless, and despite Thor’s optimism, there is a motif that runs through the event that led me to the same conclusion and question: The world is utterly f*cked. We have so much to do. How can I do more?

Yes, the event is mind-blowing and unique. Yes, it’s a clarion call for freedom, perseverance, and human endeavor — but it’s also a candid acknowledgement that humans have been hacking each other to pieces for millennia.

When faced with the genocide against the Tutsi, Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of what has become known as Hotel Rwanda, armed himself with speech, saying, “The best weapon is my word.”

Faisal Al Mutar echoed this sentiment — from the ashes of civil war in Iraq, his talks and work reached millions of listeners from Afghanistan to Morocco. The activist come entrepreneur has cultivated his word, his speech to fight autocracy.

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Ideas Beyond Borders President Faisal Al Mutar at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Source: Joe Hall

If we want to change the course of the world, and improve it, then we need to meet it with our words, our speech — but also joy, resilience, and humanity. Fortunately, that is available by the bucket load at the forum.

Compared to Europe’s largest Bitcoin conference — BTC Prague — I am obliged to comment, of course, that the forum is not a Bitcoin conference. But if I had to go to just one event on the Bitcoin and crypto calendar next year, it would not be a Bitcoin, crypto or fintech conference. It would be the Oslo Freedom Forum.

And I’m already looking forward to next year.

Joe Hall is a freelance journalist and filmmaker who travels the world documenting Bitcoin communities and sharing Bitcoin adoption stories. A former reporter for Cointelegraph, he holds an MA in French and Spanish from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in languages from Sciences Po Lyon.

This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Source: Cointelegraph