It’s one thing to enjoy a conference when you go to only one a year and could really use the chance to listen to smart people talk for a few days. It’s another when you speak at several dozen a year and have been in eight cities at the midpoint of a month. At that point, it’s very hard for anyone to create a conference that’s more compelling than sitting on your sofa at home and watching football.
But Pop!Tech is that conference. Ten years in, the logistics of the conference have been brilliantly thought out, and there’s a huge community of attendees, organizers and former speakers who come to the conference every year. The conference is well structured so that you get a good blend of time to see these old friends and to force you to meet new people as well, like lunches that assign people to random restaurants, forcing cliques apart.
I’m glad that Andew Zolli and crew continue to innovate. Stealing one of the best ideas from the TED conference – the simulcast room – was a great step forward. The dungeon – as we took to calling it – was a room filled with comfy chairs, lots of powerstrips, three huge monitors, and lots of bloggers. It was empty the first morning, then was overful from then on, a clear sign of an idea with legs. (Speaking of legs, mine just don’t fit in the seats in the Opera House. I really hope I have the option to blog from the basement again next year.)
Less successful were the three-minute talks, also borrowed from TED. At TED, these talks are scripted and prepared, roughly in the same way the “major” talks are. At Pop!Tech, the 3 minute talks were presented at a bar with a bad sound system, competing with the Mets/Cardinals game, which was being watched by enthusiastic and drunken fans. It was, as they say, a tough room. Jamais Cascio gave a funny talk about “pink goo” – nanotech spam; Andy Jagoe gave a good pitch for 3jam, his
one-to-many text messaging project; I enjoyed two talks about 3 dimensional lighting design and about student activism, but I have no notes as I was in a bar, it was loud, and I was a little drunk. Maybe next year, we can find a way to move some of these speakers to the main stage. Or try an evening event somewhere slightly quieter… and soberer.
After the drive home and the requisite couch-lying and football-watching (Go Pack!), here are a few ideas sticking in my mind:
– Juan Enriquez’s reminder that the US is in danger of creating a resentful, angry Latino underclass similar to the French speaking Quebecois of two generations ago. He urges us to look at a license plate like “Je me souviens” and to ensure that folks like Lou Dobbs don’t lead us to a future where license plates read “Yo me recuerdo.”
– Tom Barnett’s observation that the British were smart enough to realize their power was on the wane and to focus on coaching the up and coming US, “punching above their weight” for decades. It’s interesting to wonder whether the US will be able to do something similarly clever with China. (Listening to “State of Denial” as I drove home, I was reminded of just how powerful Tom’s “sysadmin force” idea is and how badly we needed it in Iraq.)
– The message from Dr. Serena Koenig and Zinhle Thabethe that it’s not okay to accept deaths in the developing world that we wouldn’t accept in the developed world. If we can expect people to live for 40 years on antiretroviral drugs, we need to expect the same in Africa and Haiti. (It would be great to get a speaker like Jamie Love to address the legal and practical aspects of making ARVs universally accessible.)
– Eno’s reminder about simplicitly and complexity. I’m listening to Steve Reich’s “Early Works” for the first time in a decade – available via iTunes, featuring the remarkable “It’s Gonna Rain”. As I think back, “Clapping Music”, on the same album, is the piece that let me fall in love with polyrhythms… which led me to study West African music in college… which led me to West Africa… which led me to, well, basically everything else. You should download this album immediately and see where it leads you. (Better yet, you should buy it on vinyl, dust off your turntable and listen to it that way.)
I’m enjoying catching up on everyone else’s favorite moments of the conference today, including Katherine Walter, Jamais, Randy Moss and Jason Kottke. Thanks to everyone with kind words about my blogging of the conference – the sad truth is this: my brain is a sieve and unless I blog these things, I’m not able to remember the words and phrases that changed my mind or make me think.
Thank you to everyone who spoke, attended and organized Pop!Tech, and thanks for letting me be part of it again.