Wow. Day 1 was amazing.
The conversations were inspiring, the presentations were interesting and very lively, but overall, the best part by far is hanging out with all these cool people. Having worked remotely on the NetSquared site for the last 6 months, I've developed great relationships with a lot of the folks at Techsoup and Compumentor, so it's been awesome to finally make f2f connections with these super-super-super people. And meeting the 'strangers' in the room has been equally amazing. It's impossibly exciting to me to be in the company of so many people doing good work in the world.
It's exciting to me to see all the activity that's been happening on the NetSquared site, too -- site traffic is through the roof, the community blog is on fire with people live-blogging and commenting on various sessions, and the remote conference rooms are totally buzzing. The community has really come out. If you haven't checked it out lately, you really should. It's awesome.
I've been taking some notes on the conference sessions I've attended. As I mentioned above, there are lots of folks doing a great job of live-blogging and notetaking the conference, so I'm not going to try to re-create the sessions in great detail. But I do have a lot to relate, and I'm excited to go over the high points of my day. I'll try to include notes for finding more info where I can. I'll start with the morning sessions, and I'll post about the afternoon sessions later today. Ok, here goes...
The conference opener was an introductory conversation with Angela Glover-Blackwell from PolicyLink, an American nonprofit policy research organization. She spoke very articulately and passionately on the importance of scrutinizing elected representatives, industry leaders and policy-makers on the basis of their progressive social agenda first, and their use of technology second. To paraphrase:
"look to the people who lead with their social agenda. Don't get snowed by tech-savvy-ness or cutting edge use of technology for its own sake. Look to the folks who have real, big ideas about people. Because if the progressive and compelling social agenda is there, the progressive technology use will follow. It has to. It's in the air now."
For more info on Angela's session, check out her session page on NetSquared. And be sure to check out the great work she and others are doing (particularly around race issues in the US) at policylink.org.
Making the most of disruption
The first plenary session of the day was about disruptive technologies (technologies that cause significant changes in the way that individuals live, businesses operate, or society behaves). Howard Rheingold and Paul Saffo were the panelists, and for experts on disruption, they were exceptionally well behaved.
They took us on a kind of casual tour through pivotal disruptive technologies of the 20th century. One of the most interesting (IMO) themes that emerged from their talk is that tools are tools, and they're nothing more until you use them.
To illustrate the point, Paul related a great story of early thinking on the implications of air travel. Apparently there was a wide-spread and popular conversation going on after the invention of airplanes about the fact that from the air, one can't see natural borders at all. And the implication of this observation, of course, was that if we can't see natural borders anymore, their importance will diminish, and we'll (finally!) see the emergence of a truly global community. Airplanes will usher in a new age. Airplanes for world peace!
Obviously (and not all that shockingly), though, airplanes have not actually brought us world peace. Similarly, emerging tools will not bring us peace on their own -- tools, however cool, don't do anything on their own. Revolutionary changes come about through the strategic use of these new tools to achieve the greater good. In a room full of technologists & tool-geeks (among others), this was a brave and welcome sentiment, and it helped to set a great tone for the rest of the day.
Check out the session page on the NetSquared site for more info.
We the Media: the rise of grassroots & open-source journalism
Next up was a great panel discussion on citizen journalism featuring Dan Gillmor, Hong Eun Taek and Ethan Zuckerman, moderated by Michael Rogers.
This was perhaps the most familiar conversation of the morning for an Indymedia wonk like me. It was interesting to hear someone like Hong Eun Taek (from the Korea-turned-international news phenomenon Ohmynews.com) speak about the power and popularity of citizen-driven media, especially when it comes to predicting the future of media, on and offline. One of the nice highlights from the session was this comment from Ethan:
Whether we ask them or not, people will make media. And they'll do it before the media gets there. This idea -- the citizen witness (& the citizen witness with a camera) is not a new phenomenon. (remember JFK?) But nowadays, where formerly there was maybe one image from one observer, there are now thousands.
The conversation went on to outline some of the new and interesting ways that people are contributing to and creating media, including Wikipedia, mashups & the ever-popular internet video satire, as well as blogs, vlogs, podcasts & the like. Plus, Ethan Zuckerman (of Global Voices) is a real 5-star speaker. Check him out.
For more info on this session, check out the session page on netsquared.org.
Well, that's the morning. As I said, I'll post more about day 1 later today. For now, I'm back to paying attention to the ever-inspirational Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow. Awesome!