Podcamp Perth 2007 – final impressions

Well as I sit in my hotel room after spending a couple of days with some of WA’s digerati (I say WA instead of Perth because Duncan Riley lives a few hours away) as well as some ring-ins from the Eastern states such as Nick Hodge, Stilgherrian and Paul Montgomery, as well as Adam and Jared (what happened to you guys? I hardly saw you yesterday and didn’t see you at any of the events today?), I’m trying to distill my thoughts.

The Perth digerati crowd certainly has a lot of energy. I was impressed by the amount of people who turned up to Podcamp, especially as most of them were from Perth. Bronwen Clune seems to be the Mother Goose of the Perth digerati crowd, running around keeping everyone in beer and skittles, with my old mate Richard Giles hanging back, giving both Bronwen and I a lot of shit, but acting as another lightening rod for the digerati here. Duncan lives out of town but his personal brand and the fact that he writes for the hottest geek site on the planet (although there has been a lot of talk over the last few days about whether or not TechCrunch still carries the cache it did 18 months ago) casts a big shadow over everyone here.

Getting back to Podcamp and geek meetups in general… the feedback on my unkeynote has been sparse, I still think I freaked most of them out. Mike seems to agree, although he seemed to like it. Stil called it “passionate” and thinks my use of a picture of Che Guevara gave him permission to use a picture of Goebbels.

I still get the feeling though that we geeks, we early adopters of the new new tools, the Twitterers, the Facebookeranians, the SecondLifers, the podcasters and bloggers, are still running around playing with these shiny new toys like 3 year-olds in a sandbox. When I look at people at gatherings like those over the last couple of days, I think about how wealthy and privileged we are. We all sit around with our shiny Macbooks and our iPhones and play with our communication toys which let us talk to enormous numbers of people all over the world, and yet we seem to lack direction. Whenever we get together at events like Podcamp or MODM, whilst there is a certain level of geek community bonding and a few impassioned conversations, that there is a general lack of BIG IDEAS. I’m including myself in this by the way. I come away from these events feeling slightly hollow, like a great opportunity has been missed. That there should be more going on than just getting together, having a few drinks, comparing toys, exchanging a few anecdotes, swapping business cards. Shouldn’t we be doing something more when we get together?

Nick summed up my rant from our recent podcast as “Geeks For Good” (I love how he describes debating with me as “like fighting a intellectual tornado”), and I think that sums it up pretty well – shouldn’t we be using our geek powers for good? Is it just me? Does anyone else out there feel like us geeks have a responsibility to use our understanding of computing and new communication technologies to make the world a better place? Or is it all just about making ourselves richer and buying newer toys?

Where is the sense of responsibility? The sense of purpose, of destiny, of time and place and manifesting these things to advance the chances of the human race to survive this century? I so much want to meet someone who has an awe-inspiring vision to share with me, something to expand my consciousness, threaten my perspectives, build me a new dream, entice me, invigorate me, dazzle me. Instead I find myself being the guy ranting and raving about changing the world and feeling like everyone is staring at me like I’m a lunatic. Maybe I am. Maybe it’s me, I’m just missing a few screws. Maybe it’s my messiah complex. I just feel like we’re all wasting time, wasting opportunity.

ANYWAY…

Someone during the Q&A after my session yesterday (I think it was Brett) asked me if podcasts were all just like radio. And yes, I do. I think most podcasts are just like radio. And that bothers me, has done for a long time. Shouldn’t we be doing something new, exciting, fresh? Something that hasn’t been done before? And the more I thought about that issue over the last couple of days, the more the ideas which Duncan’s post a month ago started in my mind have been taking more shape.

There is something new happening and it’s in the emergence arising from a loosely-coupled combination of the new tools – it’s podcasting + blogging + twitter + facebook + second life + real events like MODM or Podcamp. The new form of conversation lies in the intersection of these things, not in any one of them. It is messy and rambling and it is swirling around us, impossible to define or pigeon hole, but it is real and it’s growing stronger each year, a milieu that contains within it the beginnings of the true new communications platform, the true 21st century media. The conversation might start with a blog post then migrate over to a podcast then get expanded on in a Facebook group, debated in Twitter, then turn into a 4 hours group discussion in Second Life.

I don’t know what to call it yet (any ideas?), but I’m intrigued by it, excited by it and determined to harness it and use it for good.

All this talk of Geeks For Good reminds me of that episode of “The West Wing” when President Bartlett says to the new guy Will Bailey:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why?”

Will thinks for a moment, then answers ‘It’s the only thing that ever has.’

Cue theme music…

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23 thoughts on “Podcamp Perth 2007 – final impressions

  1. I don’t know what we should be doing. I wish I did, I wish you did. But I’d rather stick my head in the sand than think more about it, because I’m very scared of becoming depressed. Maybe that’s a weak excuse for being lazy, I’m not sure. My mind goes around in circles, if I let it. I don’t think I’m smart enough to get out of going around in circles.
    There’s a lot of ‘I’s’ in this comment, that depresses me!

    I need to go to bed. Everything is clearer in the morning. Or forgotten.

  2. I’m sorry I missed the front end of your unkeynote Cam, I was wandering the deserted streets of Perth in a Ballardian funk at the time. I think I get the gist of it though. On the subject of responsibility, I think that is a personal decision for the very large part. You can’t force social awareness on people, least of all a bunch of small business owners and corporate consultants (i.e. the petit bourgeois). The Web way seems to be to concentrate on making your fortune first, then giving it away philanthropically, billg style. I know that billg’s money does a lot of good things from the stories of Africa I hear from my sister, so I wouldn’t dismiss that out of hand.

    I’m not sure that any of us in Australia can use technology to seriously engineer social goals. The main task that technology could solve in the next five to ten years is the completion of the gradual process to make it impossible to block communication in 20th-century dictatorships like China, Burma and Zimbabwe. People on the ground there who are using the Net to change society are the new Ches and Fidels.

    As for the West Wing quote… Trotskyism is dead! πŸ˜‰

  3. Hey Cam, thanks for coming. I did get into what you were saying and if I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in codeine I would have stayed and discussed it over beer. For me the biggest issue is that of target audience. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that those people who are actively locating and downloading podcasts are going to be reasonably well-informed anyway. The people we really need to reach are those who don’t (or won’t) understand podcasting.

    As a Microsoft Developer we call them Morts. It has been used as a derogatory term but it shouldn’t be. A Mort is someone who will learn what is necessary (ie What is put in front of them) and no more.

    So that is my question. How do we reach the Morts? Speaking to Duncan on Saturday I know that there is a simple answer coming…

  4. I’m intrigued by your comments on whatever this communications mashup is that we’re developing; I have close air-breather friends (the “Christmas card list”) that I don’t have much electronic contact with, then there are folks I know socially and semi-professionally that I swap emails with and see approx. monthly but that’s about it, there’s a couple of people that I mostly know electronically and have only met once/twice but feel very close to, then finally there’s this whole new (for me) gaggle of Twitter people that I sorta feel I know but have never met.

    As I go through my day (I’m a writer working at home) my Twitter screen is sort of this cool break room or vending machine area or coffee pot where interesting people chatter all day, and I really miss them when I’m out and about (I don’t do mobile Twitter; don’t want the text costs or distraction.)

    What is this world? Are my electronic acquaintances valid? I think so, but it still feels strange to say “I know them from the Internet,” which gets that look from my Mom. πŸ™‚

    And you’re right; we’re a privileged bunch with our trons and toys. Isn’t there more we can do with all this? I’m comforted in the knowledge that we will, in ways we can’t imagine.

    Absolutely true about how this stuff breaks down political barriers and allows dissent. N. Korea and Burma are doomed to continue as they are for much longer. So are China and Cuba. So are parts of the Middle East.

    What I also like is that people who always felt out of it — the iconoclast, that gay kid in an isolated small town for example — knows that he or she isn’t alone. That’s such powerful stuff.

  5. Cam, thanks for the rant… I felt a bit like that after WDS07 I was so inspired, I knew then that this Web thingy was part of my future direction. But where to now, I’m a little lost… the journey to find out begins Now!

    But Cam, you really really need to get Mark Pesce on your show – he is saying very much the same things as you – especially around the way the developing countries are using tech. Have a listen to his Mob Rules talk from WDS07 here http://www.webdirections.org/resources/mark-pesce/

    (Also Cam, can you please please fix the comments button – I keep forgetting to enter the new security code and it looses the whole interesting comment that you have just typed in the box. Luckily the browser was slow this time and I was able to quickly copy the text).

  6. @Jodie Miners – Sorry, but it’s not my secret to share. I’m also not sure how much help it will be. If you stop for a few seconds and think about the way people find and consume podcasts vs. the way people get other audio content it wouldn’t take too long to come up with a good idea or two though. πŸ™‚

  7. Well said man, well said.

    Messiah complex? Maybe. Missing a few screws. No.

    I don’t know what to call it either. Does it need a label just yet? Let’s just get on with it πŸ˜‰ I’m all for taking this stuff beyond the geek echo chamber.

  8. I don’t know what the future of communications, networking, information and knowledge sharing and collaboration is – some sort of mash-up seems to be the vague direction … but just take heart in the fact that there IS somewhere to go. There always has been, always will be. We just need to find the door, conduit to the next level … but it’s there, somewhere.

    We’re right behind you Cam … but you go first, k? πŸ™‚

  9. Cam @jodie is right you need to get Mark Pesce on your show, his final keynote at WDS07 was gold. It lifted and inspired the entire crowd (580+). What comes of it is another thing. But people have the energy, the direction, they just need to find a common goal.

    Sadly I think you where trying to raise the bar for people that have reached their limits and a crowd that s traditional mostly within the 9-5 world.

    There was a very large component of the Perth Community not at PodCamp, mainly as they perceived it to be not in their mindset. This is the group that will step up, this is the group to pull people together and fight the fight, you just saw a small sliver of it.

    Messiah complex – its the “rose” tinted sunglasses. πŸ™‚

    Your cross media idea is so much like the Pervasive Gaming, but from a discussion view point.

  10. I agree with Sheila – life on the web can be lonely without applications like Twitter. I also do not have it mobile as I can’t wear the cost, but when I’m out I have flesh and blood people to talk to.

    I have only got into all this stuff because Cam led the way, and (mostly) to help out Father Bob. My breed of students and academics aren’t interested – maybe cost, probably time.

  11. Morts are not the problem. (shame on you Mike – people always learn how to do things they are passionate about, the question is, why aren’t they passionate?)

    Lack of internet and computers is a far bigger barrier.

    For those folks without PCs, without internet, podcasting is an unknown.
    The people who would benefit most from the internet are the very people who do not have it.

    While libraries provide some access, many prevent downloads and most sessions are limited to between 10-30 minutes.

    I’d still like to see some internet-free podcasts circulating, a la bookcrossing.com on CD. There are far more CD players out there than there are mp3 players, and CD playback does not require a computer. Another alternative would be to giveaway some mp3 players pre-loaded with content.

    The question is, how do you bring the content of the internet to people who don’t have the internet?

  12. @Cait – I feel a little shame but I think maybe my point was not as well articulated as I imagined. I think that the lack of passion is exactly the problem and it relates to people not connecting with content.

    As an example, I listened to the podcast with Nick Hodge, Cam and Richared from a few nights ago and got very interested. I started listening, not because I was excited or passionate about politics, I’m usually not, but because it had 3 people I know and respect appearing on it. As a result I ended up getting a dose of political commentary that I enjoyed and got fired up about.

    I personally think that this kind of serendipitous knowlege aquisition is ultimately more powerful than giving an impassioned speech at a rally. Cameron managed, through his show, to reach someone who wasn’t actually interested!! That has to be worth more than reaching hundreds of others who already had opinions.

    People watch TV because it’s on. They watch anything because it’s on between two shows that they like and sometimes they will find something new that really appeals to them. This kind of audience-gathering-by-osmosis effect is something which TV and radio have enjoyed for years but that podcasts are sorely lacking. Podcasts are not very discoverable.

    I certainly agree that if we are going to change that then we need to get “new media” (I see why people hate that term now) out into the mainstream a little more. Off the internet is a good start. There are other mediums which deliver content to the masses, their content just generally sucks.

    End Rant

  13. I got two words for you; Ham. Radio. No internet required and you’ll be able to communicate your truth directly to the Space AliensΓ’β€žΒ’ who secretly control mass media.

  14. Good onya Cam, stick it up em…change the world. Can’t wait to hear the podcast of your session at podcamp. If your premise is podcasting is dead because people’s *actions* are dead then RIP podcasting.

    Without a vision the people perish.

  15. I had problems with leaving comment on the “Voting’ conversation with Richard & Nick. I had quite a bit to say but whenever I tried to submit the comment I lost the lot. First time admittedly because I forgot to enter the code, but three times after that I got told each time it was the wrong code. I could have sworn I copied it exactly. Don’t know what I was doing wrong, but of course lost all my “rant” each time. (Must be where you inherit the “rant” from). I gave up eventually.

  16. You know that that the West Wing exchange was just a paraphrasing of Margaret Mead, right? Pretty blantant, too. I hope they credited her!

    Mead said “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    There’s some question as to where and when she said it, though. According to The Institute for Intercultural Studies “Although the Institute has received many inquiries about this famous admonition by Margaret Mead, we have been unable to locate when and where it was first cited, becoming a motto for many organizations and movements. We believe it probably came into circulation through a newspaper report of something said spontaneously and informally. We know, however, that it was firmly rooted in her professional work and that it reflected a conviction that she expressed often, in different contexts and phrasings.”

    Tell me she wasn’t hot.

  17. @Scott – I did not know that sir! Thanks for the info. I’m checking her out now on Wikip.

    @Granjan – since when did you start listening to the show?
    I think (and I’m sure everyone will be glad to hear this) that the comment code has now been turning off. Please tell me if that information is incorrect.

  18. Cam, thanks for turning the comments code thing off!

    Hey, can’t wait to hear what your new thinking is re TPN.

    Also, very interested to hear your Podcamp talk once it’s released.

  19. Hey Cameron. Missed your talk, but will check out the video soon.

    I love the web, but its really only open to a privileged few. The problem with shiny new toys is that they can be very distracting. In a world thats dominated by hype and cool, who wants to take a risk by saying what they really believe? The tools allow us to use image to distract from the lack of substance. The web is just a communication tool and you still need a message.

    Re: things to advance the chances of the human race to survive this century

    If you really want some food for thought, go and talk to Ted Trainer. I read his book many years ago, and its profoundly affected the way I try to live my life. His web site is: The Simpler Way. A good summary of his ideas is in the Limits To Growth. This is fundamental stuff which most of us simply choose to ignore. Its not easy reading, but I guarantee it will get you thinking. You said you were up for a challenge…

  20. Stewart, democracy is only open to a privileged few as well. That’s why I believe we, the privileged, need to use our hard-won freedom and our technology to make the world a better place for everyone.

    Had a quick read of the links you sent. Interesting stuff but I’ve read a lot of Chomsky, Pilger, Monbiot, Fuller, it sounds similar in concept. And I agree with much of it.

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