Chris was able to fly in and attend the opening reception of Esther Dyson’s PC Forum 2004. Here’s some of his crib notes...
Like the cool, sweet desert wind that swirled beneath the tall palms, Esther Dyson was effortlessly weaving through the crowd.
Watching Esther at PC Forum 2004 is like seeing the Gladwellian ideal of a “connector.” Moreover, Esther doesn’t just introduce people to anyone, she introduces the right people to each other. And she does so masterfully and with grace. I really have never seen anyone like her.
My only regret was that I unable to stay for the entire conference. Freudian allusions not withstanding, I felt a bit like Cinderella dreading the stroke of midnight. I had to fly back to Salt Lake City and only had about 2 hours to mingle. What can you talk about with a patio full of strangers in 2 hours? Quite a bit actually:
My first introduction was with Steven Johnson of Emergence fame. Having written a book, I have a huge respect for anyone who can make their work look effortless. Perhaps that respect develops from something more base, like envy. After reading Emergence, and slew of other articles of his, I imagined Steven to be like a snotty, wunderkind. My perception and the reality of Steven were not even close.
“There are a lot of high IQs around here. I’m not one of them.” I overheard him say to the bartender.
Now I’m even more torn. Brilliant, a new book being published and humble. How despicable.
Next, Esther introduced me to the table that I would spend the remainder of my evening. First was Bob Frankston. Bob is partially responsible for the revolution that brought about the computer you are reading on right now. With the amount of memory that a typical banner ad takes up, Bob wrote a spreadsheet program called VisiCalc. Bob’s mind is kinetic and jumps precariously from politics to genealogy, to social networks and French mistresses.
The pace of our conversation became almost frenetic when Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, joined in. Within moments, we had stumbled upon an unfortunate conflict with online social networks. While they seem safer than offline, they still suffer from an innate social awkwardness - people hate to be in the position of saying “no.” (Cialdini would call this sometimes loathsome form of influence “reciprocation”.)
We were soon joined by David Sifry (Technorati), Micah Sifry (publiccampaign.org) and Ralph Terkowitz (washingtonpost.com). Now we’re really talking about participatory journalism. Things were happening too fast to capture it all. But here are a few thoughts that I was able to paraphrase as they flew by:
• From Ralph: Online newspapers archives are not a business. Digital rights management news is a bad idea when it will be wrapping fish in the morning.
• From Micah: OhMyNews.com works because it gives people a chance to express a new perspective in a media environment, which is not diverse. In America, we have too many voices. We need more filters and editors.
• From David: People are becoming more concerned with accuracy and transparency. (More on this later.)
• From Reid: Writers should become better storytellers. As writers become conduits for their networks, will that make news organizations more or less susceptible to when someone goes rogue?
• From Ralph: People just want the news.
• From a lurker: What is news?
At the end, I mentioned how much I think (like Howard Rheingold) that journalism, whatever form it takes, must better inform and serve a democracy. To that point, Reid left me with this thought:
“Democracy is not about self-rule but bloodless revolution.”
All that in two hours. I can’t wait until next year.
Update (7:31pm MST) from Weinberger: “Steven Johnson gives a great talk on the topic of his book, Mind Wide Open. [I wish I could write like Steve. Total author envy.]”