The problem with an event like Pop!Tech is that there's too much going on for me to hear it, note it, understand it, ponder it, synthesize it, associate to it, and talk about it to actually blog about it. Others do better.
But, in keeping with Carl Honoré's ideas, pointed out in a reprise of his TED Global presentation of two years ago, there are learnings that emerge quickly and others that take time.
So, my first level reflection on this year's Maine event is that it was an interesting hodgepodge. I don't mean that characterization to be pejorative. The "triple helix" themes of "Psyche, Systems, Solutions" that were proposed as the DNA of the event never emerged as meaningful for me. The presentations themselves weren't organized around them and no one made much of an attempt to reflect on their interconnections. No, this was a rich jumble of ideas, insights, projects, and observations. Each session had a name, such as "The Creative Instinct," or "The Pursuit of Happiness," and some sessions actually bore some resemblance to those names.
Never mind. It was clear from the start that there would be plenty to think about, and there was. How about a few award categories to help the thinking along?
- Most Memorable Presentation - (tie) Dan Gilbert and Van Jones.
Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist who wrote Stumbling On Happiness, turned his attention to risk and the brain. His claim is that our brains have evolved to be highly sensitized to certain types of risk and totally unconcerned about others. So, while anthrax killed absolutely zero people last year, more people are concerned about its risks than are concerned about the flu, which killed upwards of 250,000 since 2001. Our brains respond to risks that meet what Gilbert called the "PAIN" criteria:
- Personal - we react strongly to threats with faces: Saddam, Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin
- Abrupt - we notice and react to rapid, absolute threats (e.g., lightning) much more than slow, relative ones (e.g., decreased tire pressure)
- Immoral - threats that cause revulsion or disgust (e.g., other cultures eating kittens) are more powerful threats than those with little or no moral component (e.g., radon)
- Now - threats to the present (e.g., avoiding a careening car) are exceedingly more likely to lead to action than threats to the future (e.g., putting money in a 401k)
All of this demonstrates why climate change isn't perceived as threatening by most people: it's faceless, slow, has no immediate moral imperative and will have its greatest impact in the future. Excellent framework for understanding our reactions and ways to address them.
Van Jones is a community activist in Oakland who, along with the Sustainable South Bronx's Majora Carter, is taking up the call of a green revolution for America's inner cities. Jones is an energetic presenter who speaks with authenticity, passion and wit. His story of the founding of GREENFORALL.org and of "fourth quadrant" of environmentalism (poor people working in "green collar jobs" and developing green solutions) made this a talk few of us in the audience will ever forget.
- Most Uplifting Presentation - Vanessa German
A slam poet, word artist, inspiration of the first order, Vanessa German performed several pieces, including, "If these hands were anything but hands." There is no way I can do this woman's amazing talent justice except to say that I hope PopTech makes available a video of her performance. She was absolutely magnificent.
- Most Surprisingly Insight-Generating - (tie) Elizabeth Streb and Bill Shannon
When a young man who dances on crutches and a spiky-haired choreographer paired in the same session, it might have been fair to speculate that the outcome would be pure entertainment. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Streb, a MacArthur fellow, spoke with powerful vision about the relationship of our bodies to space. Using time and space as her creative medium, Streb simply explores (she quoted Tim Cahill, "the explorer is a person who is lost") "things you can't name, only do." Her method: "shoot an arrow into the air; where it lands, paint a bulls-eye."
Shannon is a 36 year-old man who was born with a bi-lateral hip deformity. While he is able to walk without crutches, doing so will eventually cause his hips to fail. Remarkably, Shannon has not only learned to use crutches in an extraordinary manner (you can see him on YouTube, here), but has also deeply observed the social psychology of disability and integrated those insights into performance art pieces. Working against what he calls the "projected narrative of the social situation" Shannon uses "disability-based utilitarianism" to reveal the lived-assumptions that form the supporting framework for many interactions between able-bodied and disabled persons. He is a natural phenomenologist who has brilliantly described and named a rich array of interaction patterns.
Tomorrow...more awards, including:
- Most Entertaining Presentation (non-entertainer) -
- Most Entertaining Presentation (entertainer) -
- Most Convincing "Cause" Presentation -
- Biggest, "Huh?" Presentation -
- Most Hopeful Presentation -
- Presentation That Sounded Most Like I Could Have Given -