I just returned from my second PopTech in Camden, Maine. I listened and talked to many different kinds of people: doctors, designers, business people, communicators, scientists, musicians, teachers, and students. Each in their own way, they mostly described the 500-person conference as mind-bending, incredible, and inspiring. I agree. We flocked to the Camden Opera House to regenerate, fuel-up, get inspired, or 'recover' from our daily routines.
One young woman, an industrial designer from New York City, told me she thinks about the three-day conference throughout the year. The owner of a small software company told me that PopTech is like the legendary village of Brigadoon: an enchanted place that appears too infrequently.
Along with co-founders Bob Metcalfe and John Sculley, current president Tom DeVine, and 'curator' Andrew Zolli, the many volunteers who are responsible for producing PopTech have kept the conference tightly run and somewhat provocative over the past decade. The theme for this year's sold-out event was 'dangerous ideas.'
My ideas for PopTech are not dangerous, but they are worth considering. My readers know that I see decisions and choices everywhere. I believe decisions and choices are the signposts of our lives and societies. (There are some links to earlier posts below.) Here are a few ideas for making new PopTech signposts:
- Get excited, get with it, and get moving. PopTech is becoming a significant platform for change. Yeah! The Tanzania Project is one of the few examples of pushing the conference into the real world. PopTech 2007 should begin with an update on platform progress, not end with it. There should be monthly communications between events.
- Professional production. The PopTech team prides itself on being highly polished and professional. That's fine, but it consumes a lot of resources, and is not always necessary. The event needs less scripting, gloss, and controlled scheduling. Lighten up, loosen up. Get more like the larger world.
- Moving from 500-to-one to many-to-many. The opera house was built for staged performances, which is not what PopTech is about. As much as I love the ambiance and architecture of the old hall, PopTech needs several, more flexible spaces that foster conversation, spontaneity, and experimentation. These are difficult when the seats are bolted down, facing the stage, and the only ad-hoc spaces are out on the street.
- People mash. There should be more time for unstructured conversations. Break time is robbed to get back on schedule instead of protected as essential time to talk. Also, a speaker should not disappear after making his presentation or talk: he should stick around and mingle. Brian Eno exemplified this. He participated in every session. He sat in several different seats and met many of us. He asked lots of questions. (I use the pronoun 'he' because there are far too few women at PopTech, both in front and behind the microphone.)
- Excessive gadget/gizmo/geekiness. Technology is a smokescreen that sometimes hides the real issues and problems. For example, chef-to-the-rich-and-quirky Homaro Cantu handed out copyrighted squares of edible paper, saying this technology could feed the poor. That is fine, but it is my understanding that hunger is a political problem, not a technical one. PopTech should aspire to be the iPod of tech-enabled change; technology so sublime that it disappears and lets the music take over.
PopTech; Camden, Maine; Brigadoon; Zuckerman on Eno and the Tanzania Project; Jason Kottke blogged it; other PopTech bloggers; my blog posts where I argue that decisions are everywhere, here and here.