On the theme of Tails and Tales, Chris LongTail Anderson began his talk remarking that his "dangerous idea" was not to give his Long Tail Talk. Much relief in the audience, since lots of these folks had seen the speech, read the book, bought the rights, or had otherwise already assimilated the idea into their worldview and consulting patter. Instead, Anderson talked about "The Economics of Abundance," repackaging a bit of the old deck into new constructs, sure, but impressing the audience with what is an undeniably powerful idea: What happens when we move from models of scarcity to abundance; when we "waste" transistors, waste storage, and waste bandwidth? Well, we get our two paradigms: Amazon instead of Walmart, iTunes instead of Tower Records, Netflix instead of Blockbuster, lonelygirl15 instead of Raymond. And, he had the quote of the day: "Google is the world's best tail-finder." The audience went crazy.
Kent Nichols, co-creator of AskANinja.com, was up next. He took us through the influences and phenomena that helped him put together his plan--HomestarRunner, Rocketboom, Lazy Sunday, etc.--and gave the attendees the 3 rules of success in this new medium: 1. Distribute without judgment (the filmmakers imperative); 2. Grow with your audience; and 3. Content equals form. Wait: There were 5 more!: 1. Tech is a commodity; 2. Experiment and learn; 3. Honesty; 4. Give 'em what they want; then Give 'em more; and 5. Be there with your audience. He showed their famous, hilarious episode on "What is Net Neutrality?" and then screened a custom "What is Pop!Tech" to the delight of everyone in the building. Hopefully it will be on the web soon.
Pop!Fave balladeer Jonathan Coulton was next with three great songs, Code Monkey, All We Want to Do Is Eat Your Brains, and an incredible Flickr song, where he accompanied a stream of flickr images, matching lyrics to whatever image was up on screen. I suppose an improve guy would've done this on the fly, but the song was sweet, and you can listen to it and others at http://www.jonathancoulton.com/songs
After a coffee break, things got considerably more sober. Stepping in for Victoria Hale was Serena Koenig, an infectious disease physician and instructor at Harvard Medical School, who has spent the past 6 years with Partners In Health in Haiti. She began by quoting the Gates Foundation credo that “Every life on this planet has equal value,” and recounting the tale of Coralie, a child in Haiti suffering from Leukemia, with a sure diagnosis but surely no possible treatment. Pulling strings in Boston, Koenig was able to get Coralie up to Mass General, where she is receiving treatment at this very moment. Asking "Is it my ethical responsibility as a physician (in Boston) to help Coralie (in Haiti)?," Koening presented her dangerous idea that "our goal is to treat every patient as if they were our family member."
Neema Mgana, one of the youngest women to be nomintated for Nobel Peace Prize, came to Camden to report on a project that was catalyzed at last year's Pop!Tech. Working with Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity, and Nicholas Gilliland and Gaton Tolita, she was able to coordinate the building of a medical center in Ipuli, Tanzania, simultaneously setting a template for other such initiatives around the continent. (The project is highlighted in next month's FastCompany.) Zinhle Thabethe then held the stage, taking the attendees' breath away with her story of HIV and TB infection, and repeating the disbelieving mantra, "We are not the same." Displaying a family photo superimposed with graphic icons, she revealed that her sister has TB, her brother--now deceased--had HIV and TB, and her mother and other brother have HIV and TB. It was a devastating story, but Thabete has been fortunate to be receiving anti-retroviral mediation and is strong. Pop!Tech next brought to the stage the all-HIV+ Sinikithemba Choir, 11 of 30 members who'd made the trip. They sang 4 songs--the English "Know your status/If your negative, stay negative/If you're positive, think positive" resonating through ears, hearts and minds.
After lunch, Clifford Ross showed a hi-rez portait camera, as well as a crazy-rez panoramic video rig developed with the wonderboys at Applied Minds. Ross had apparently been planning to install an immersive viewing exhibition in a local airplane hanger for the conference, but "time ran out" and we watched a stripped-up QuickTime instead. Not at all the same thing, of course, but the audience was game and generous, and it was on to Homaro Cantu and his circus of laser-blasted, liquid nitrogen-basted food. Cantu showed many videos of dishes being prepared--charmingly un-produced (the videos)--and, forgive me here, the audience totally ate it up. His reminders that the products and processes we were witnessing (and tasting--there was a cotton candy printed paper sample for each of us) were patent-pending ringed particularly loud in contrast to the Creative Commons rah-rah of virtually all of the other presentations. We weren't sure if he was even serious (I think he was), but the work was inspired, and made for a great show.
After the final coffee break of the conference, the Neo-Futurists, of the "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" kind, treated the audience to 16 2-minute plays. They didn't make it under 20 minutes, but fudged it in the encore. From there it was on to the final duo--another near-fight--presented to us in the form of a rushed, almost deliberately-incoherent presentation by Roger Brent, and by a suspiciously deliberate, rigorous, measured, and spookily "reasonable" presentation by genome-busting Craig Venter. Brent traced the history of our understanding of "life," leading ultimately to our present time when the possibility of evil-doers creating nasty viruses in their dorm rooms is inevitable. Venter assured the audience that this was not an easy task in the least, and, argued (somehow) that since there haven't been any catastrophic incidences of the bioengineered kind, there (and I'm putting word in his mouth now, but only slightly) won't be. Neither of the speakers were very satisfying in the end, and again, a potential row between them never took place because there was no room for a post-PowerPoint debate. (There were some snide, just-kidding! remarks during the Q&A, but nothing you'd sell tickets to.)
Bob Metcalfe and John Scully wrapped things up with Metcalfe's annual review (the Yes Men did not fare well here), and then it was off to the final dinner at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum. A great third day, and a fitting wrap up to an enriching conference.