It seems like Andrés Colmenares holds an inextinguishable amount of energy: he co-founded the Internet Age Media, a weekend-long festival where speakers from all sorts of backgrounds give their take on the future of education and internet culture; guides and advises companies via IAM Labs; collaborates with Tate Collective holding sessions of creative improvisation, and much more. This year's IAM edition explored the concept “From Complexity to Emergence” and counted with participants going from Freunde von Freunden to Al-Jazeera. We talked to Andrés about his first multimedia experiences, Nintendo's duck hunt and Kanye West.
Do you remember your first internet experience?
Yes. I remember waiting for my mother to finish a telephone call so I could use the line to connect to the internet with a 14.4 k modem and set up my first email account in the mid-90s. Google was not a thing back then. It was all about Yahoo directories and long, complicated URLs. I remember having a small notebook where I used to write down links that some friends at school recommended. I also used to print many texts because the time online was limited and expensive. Those days were more about CDs and “multimedia”. It was such a different experience, but still an exciting one. It got better and better as the modem speed increased, 28.8k, 56k and so on… then it was more about “surfing the net”.
When did you begin to grow an interest on new technologies and media?
Since I was a kid playing with Legos and killing ducks in Nintendo’s duck hunt, I was curious about how things work (by the way, I still don’t understand how Nintendo Zapper works). I was the kind of kid that used a screwdriver to learn how a control remote car worked. But there was a breaking point back in 1992 when my dad bought a second-hand Atari computer and I spent the school vacations learning how to use it. This device was in my room, so it became part of my daily life. On the other side of my room, I had a shelf full of magazines. Back then I collected Sports Illustrated and El Gráfico. So I grew up between a shelf of magazines and a home computer. This evolved with time as the computer was faster and the kind of magazines I collected evolved from sports to lifestyle, fashion, tech and culture. While I was studying Advertising in the early 2000s, I also worked as a self-taught web designer and my side-project was a magazine, so this interest in the space between tech and media has been there for a while.
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Is Barcelona a good city to work when it comes to research and creativity?
Absolutely. Barcelona has different layers that make it a great place to develop creative projects and research. After reflecting on this topic –because this is a question we often get asked– we realised the geographical location of the city is ideal for the creative research we have been doing for the last 7 years, since it is in the Mediterranean coast, which means "in the middle of earth". You are not that far away from Asia, Latin America or Africa but also close to London, Paris and other key creative hubs. Plus Barcelona is by definition a port, so you can find people and influences from different cultural backgrounds.
The other layer is the contrast between this cosmopolitan vibe and its strong heritage, identity and traditions. Understanding the city not only as a place but as diverse collection of people and communities. When I walk in the streets of Barcelona, I don’t feel in a specific country or region. I feel like walking on Planet Earth seeing faces and influences from many cultures. That is for me the best context to enjoy your creative/curious-self.
The last layer is more intangible and romantic in a way. Difficult to put in words but it is there. I don’t know if it is the diet, the winds, the hours of sunlight, the wine but there is a strong creative magnetism in this corner of the world. We have been lucky enough to dedicate years, thanks to different projects, to discover and connect emerging talent (photographers, musicians, filmmakers, technologists, scientists, designers, artists, illustrators, etc.) and analyze why they do what they do. Then, if you connect the dots looking backwards you see all the creative clichés (Dalí, Picasso, Gaudí and even Ferran Adrià). If you consider the size of the city, the density and quality of creativity is really high.
Was throwing a three day festival on internet cultures and new media a natural step to take after founding wabi-sabi lab? How did you come up with the idea?
Yes, it was not a linear path but it ended up feeling very natural. One of the big ideas we used to talk about from wabi-sabi lab in talks and client presentations was the idea of opening a wider access to the future. Most of the trend research and future reports we did for clients ended up in small groups of people, often not shared. And this work has a lot of value for more people and communities. So in 2013 we decided to quit our main project with Absolut in Spain, and created a web-based trend report about the future of our hometown, Bogotá, which was called iF (Imperfect Future). Doing this experiment led us to have a great opportunity to share our thinking in the swiss-TED, Lift Conference, where we got amazing feedback and we decided to invest six months transforming all these insights into a new company, a media company, an internet age media company where we could discover, inspire and connect people and companies, going beyond trend reports and creating a meeting for the people behind the trends, those pushing the boundaries and creating better futures for media, education and internet culture.
“IAM is a medium to connect people and then become an opportunity factory that makes the world better.”
Do you mostly give advice to small companies or really huge ones?
Both. Actually IAM is constantly building bridges between the small, indie, young and the big, old, complex organisations. For example in the field of media, we work a lot with independent/niche publications helping them with their business models, branding, and distribution strategies learning from the way bigger media companies have evolved. And then we also work with some big media groups, sharing with them how the smaller ones really get the internet. The lineup of IAM Weekend 16 is a good example, where we’ve had on the same stage executives from BBC, PRISA, Quartz and the youngest fashion editor of the world, or the founders of publications as Brownbook, Intern, HOLO or Freunde von Freunden. The key insight here is that behind small or huge companies there are always people.
Your Twitter ID says: “Imperfect future strategist exploring time, chaos, serendipity, internet culture.” Could you tell us a bit more about this concept?
This reminds me I need to update my profile (laughs). Well, since the characters are limited on Twitter, I tried to include and describe who am I. As it happens to many other people in the internet age, it is difficult to find one label that describes what we do. We are all multi-taskers and doing jobs that did not exist before. So when people ask what my work actually is, I like to describe myself as a strategist, basically a problem-solver. But I am not any kind of strategist. I do future research. But not any kind of futures, but mostly the imperfect ones, which means looking beyond the shiny technology that some companies like to associate the future with. We deeply believe in the beauty of imperfection that we have as humans. Then I am constantly challenging the perception of time we have as a society, trying to live following the lunar cycles instead of the dictatorial Gregorian calendar. Finding patterns in chaos and enjoying the unexpected and random connections and stories that emerge from the serendipity of the internet.
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You also have a quite interesting manifesto at the IAM website that develops some of these concepts, how did it come up?
We think manifestos are a great way to stay true to your values and connect with the right people. We did one before for wabi-sabi lab and always recommend new companies and brands to have one. So we decided to write down ours after the first IAM Weekend. We wanted to share the big ideas behind IAM, because we are not just a conference. The event is a medium to connect people and then become an opportunity factory that makes the world better. So we started working in a draft. It was a very interesting process because somehow our initial, raw ideas were developed by some of the speakers during the event and that helped us to have a better understanding of what we were doing. More than the voice and thoughts of Lucy and Andrés, we reflected the collective intuition of IAM. These ideas are complex and difficult to articulate so we tried to keep it short and simple, so more people can relate to it.
What do you think of Kanye West?
Good question. I don’t think he is good or bad, crazy or genius. He might be addicted to his ego but I am personally interested in his speeches. From the one he gave in the last VMA’s with the epic Listen to the kids bro, to this way more interesting and deep 40-min lecture he gave at Oxford University where he shared the idea of time as the only luxury we have. 
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