PopTech Blog

Apply today! Solutions Journalism Network sending one writer to PopTech - for free

This post originally appeared here on the Solutions Journalism Network blog. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Are you a writer? Interested in coming to PopTech? Here's your chance to join us. 

What? Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) is sponsoring one journalist to go to PopTech: Hybrid in October. The conference brings together around 600 entrepreneurs, designers, technologists and social innovators for three days of stage presentations, workshops, happy hours, and parties. The theme this year, Hybrid, is about looking at new ideas, projects, and movements that are created when disciplinary boundaries fall by the wayside. In what ways can we use hybridity to solve complex social, business, and global problems? “Today’s critical issues and potential areas of discovery are too big to handle with just one or the other. Instead, we need thoughtful and at times, unexpected combinations. Progress requires a new kind of people and approach: the ‘slash generation.'”

What else? I know, it’s too good to be true. But you do have to do a little work: SJN wants you to use your experience at the conference to report on the ideas or models that you find most promising; how people are talking about seemingly stale issues differently; how people are trying to solve complex problems with innovative new thinking; advances in different fields; and whatever moves you. The Huffington Post will publish these posts in What’s Working, their new vertical aimed at highlighting responses to social problems. Win win win, we think.

When? October 22-October 24.

Where? Camden, Maine (a seaside village named by Forbes as one of “America’s Prettiest Towns”).

Why? Conferences can be excellent places to network, meet leaders in the field, and hear about the latest research in a field. But so many of those important findings (think effective programs, or the most successful interventions) remain within the confines of the conference and its rather elite network, hidden from public view. We want to surface this knowledge and spread it around, showing how companies and organizations are responding to societal problems, or thinking about them differently. And we want a smart, curious, enthusiastic journalist to do just that.

How? Ahh…our most important question in journalism! By filling out this form, of course! (Scroll to the bottom of the page.) 

Deadline: August 28, 5pm ET.

Slash series: Ben Fry, data visualization/design

Speaker: Ben Fry is the Founder and Principal of Fathom Information Design, a design and software consultancy located in Boston. He holds a Ph.D. in Aesthetics and Computation from MIT. Fry has authored and co-authored multiple books on data visualization and develops "Processing" -- the programming environment he co-created with artist Casey Reas used by designers and developers all over the world. Fast Company includes Ben on its lists of “The 50 Most Influential Designers in America” and “The Most Creative People in Business 1000.”

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
That it’s been several years since I’ve written a proper bio.

Wait, don’t tell them that.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
Graduate school at MIT was my first chance to work in a truly hybrid environment: with a mathematician building interactive art, a computer scientist working in fashion, a trained statistician pursuing architecture. As someone trained in graphic design and computer science as completely separate fields, I could not have been happier. Then I realized that I was pursuing a single thing—the hybrid of the two—and would no longer be able to play them against one another. This was bittersweet.

What are you listening to?
When working, I usually listen to a lot of electronic music. But since the birth of my daughter in 2013, I’ve found myself listening to more classical. I’m torn between how it apparently helps un-crowd everything that’s happening, and feeling like an old man and resembling my father or grandfather. Still working to resolve this.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
I love Maira Kalman’s work and am looking forward to hearing from her. And I was sold after seeing my hero Bob Sabiston’s talk from PopTech in 2014.

Word association: Maine...
Honeymoon!

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Mark Twain?

Or maybe Borges? Benjamin Franklin?

My grandfather who was an engineer and my grandmother who was an artist—both of whom I never had a chance to know? Can you bring back the two of them?

The words you live by:
“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” – Charles Kingsley

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Even worse than karaoke, I usually sing *and* play. And my piano/ukulele/guitar skills are as bad as most karaoke! Rest assured, only family is subjected to all that…talent, so the answer is safely “no.”

10 week countdown! Secure your PopTech lodging

With PopTech: Hybrid only 10 weeks away, Camden accomodations are filling up fast. If you’re joining us in October, we suggest booking your hotel ASAP. Below you’ll find some of the hotels in and around Camden that still have availability. Whether you prefer to be walking distance to nearly everything or don’t mind a short drive, we’ve got you covered. We’ve included the estimated walking distance to the Camden Opera House — the hub of most PopTech activity — along with typical rates. We encourage you to call hotels directly for availability and booking. Many establishments block out the dates online to reserve space for PopTech participants like you. Contact us at registration@poptech.org if you need any assistance. Happy hotel hunting!

Blue Harbor House (800-248-3196)
5 minute walk to the Camden Opera House
$169-$219 (Breakfast included)

Camden Harbour Inn (800-236-4266) 
7 minute walk to the Camden Opera House
$525-$1245 (Breakfast included)

Camden Maine Stay Inn (207-236-9636)
10 minute to the Camden Opera House
$295 (Breakfast included)

Camden Riverhouse (800-755-7483)
3 minute walk to the Camden Opera house
$199-$249 (Breakfast included)

Castle View by the Sea B&B (207-230-4426)
15 minute walk to the Camden Opera House
$159-$245

The Claddagh Motel & Suites (800-871-5454)
10 minute drive to the Camden Opera House
$69-$129 (Breakfast included)

The Inns at Blackberry Common (800-388-6000) 
6 minute walk to Camden Opera House
$149-$289 (Breakfast included)

The Norumbega  (877-363-4646)
15 minute walk to the Camden Opera House
$239-$600 (Breakfast included)

Mount Battie Motel (800-224-3870)
7 minute drive to the Camden Opera House 
$162-$252 (Breakfast included / $30 off nightly rate for PopTech participants)

Swan House Bed & Breakfast (800-207-8275)
15 minute walk to the Camden Opera House
$120-$185 (Breakfast included)

Photo credit: Roman Boed

Slash series: Jessica Banks, robotics/engineering/design

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Jessica Banks is an inventor, roboticist, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of RockPaperRobot, a company specializing in responsive objects that expand the functional and aesthetic versatility of traditional decor. From levitating and transformable tables to robotic chandeliers, RPR aligns time-honored craftsmanship with progressive engineering.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
My favorite body part is my blind spot.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
On good days it means there are no boundaries - that any discipline, design, philosophy, failure, etc. can be combined with any other to create and solve problems. It's creative predation; I am winged, taloned, tentacled. On bad days it means option paralysis. This is a sweaty frozen state from which every direction looks to be an omni-exclusive infinite journey. It totally sucks.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
Someone with the behavioral flexibility of an octopus, the fashion sense of Dracula, Eeyore's sense of humor, and Hugh Jackman's abs. 

I just copied that from my online dating profile.

What are you reading?
Mostly manuals. Annotated drawings comfort me.

And somehow I am always reading "Man’s Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. I start over at random places to make sure I get it. Sh*t. This must be what the Bible is like for some people. (Yes, I just had a mini-eureka right here in this Q&A. Nap time!)

What are you listening to?
I am such a visually-oriented person that listening to music when I am doing anything cerebral kind of overloads my senses...but I do have an app that lets me mix my own nature sounds. I like to fall asleep to whales in a snowstorm even though (or perhaps because) it doesn't make sense. 

What are you working on at the moment?
It all comes down to loopholes, at some level.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Pass. After reading that line-up, I am mostly convinced I don't want to hear myself speak.

Word association: Maine...
Squeeze.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
The general contractor of Stonehenge speaking about project management. 

The words you live by:
Don't make it worse. (Motto #1 which is applicable to every situation and doesn’t create unrealistic expectations.)

Use all the tools in the toolbox. (Motto #2 for implementing Motto #1.)

Box your trifecta. (Do this whenever you have a trifecta. Trust me.)

Ice the kicker. (This is actually invaluable dating advice from my brother-in-law. It's admittedly more aspirational for me.)

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
That the people I love most will still be alive and healthy for at least the next 10 years. (I'm a wasteful worrier.)

That the earlier one freezes her eggs, the higher the price she can get for them on eBay.

Blackjack strategy.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Curious. Sometimes I hear a song and think, "That's the one. I'm going to practice that and make up a dance and carry around a prop every day just in case I find myself in a spontaneous karaoke situation." Then I forget it. I think my voice is so bad that my brain may be wired to do this as a natural defense. 

Slash series: Phillip Tiongson, storytelling/computation/design

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Phillip Tiongson is the Principal and Creative Director of Potion. Drawing on his training and passions as an artist, software engineer, and storyteller, Phillip leads the studio in creating its groundbreaking interactive experiences. Potion’s signature installation projects, which merge physical and digital elements, reflect his belief that digital interactions can foster a transformative experience of the physical world.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
When I was younger, I was really scared of heights. So I started rock climbing…I’ve since rock climbed and bouldered all around the U.S. and in four countries, and spent the night (unexpectedly) on the Grand Teton.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
I am a hybrid: storyteller/computer scientist/entrepreneur. I created Potion to be the place where we can create work reflects that hybridization. Our experiences are a combination of storytelling, design and technology in a way that one can’t be separated from the other. Our stories are literally written in code, whose medium of expression is a computational process. We believe that this computational medium is capable of the same emotional power of human expression that any art form strives to evoke, and we are just scratching the surface of how it can be used to amplify our humanity.

What are you reading?
Anne Bogart’s “What’s the Story: Essays about art, theater and storytelling”; Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success”; Fred Kofman’s “Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values”; and The Swift Programming Language.

What are you listening to?
Mostly podcasts these days: NPR’s “Planet Money”; WNYC’s “Radiolab”; “Debug”; and KCRW’s “Today’s Top Tune.”

What are you working on at the moment?
At Potion, we are in the middle of a process of self-examination. We are looking at how we do more of what we want to do, and how to create the conditions for a culture that renews itself creatively and iteratively. Like an organism, an organization needs every cell to be operating in harmony and with united purpose, and we are learning how to do that. 

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Assaf Biderman and Superpedestrian’s work…so excited about the Copenhagen Wheel! I love riding my bike uphills.

Word association: Maine...
Moose.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Richard Feynman: magic, physics, Far Rockaway, and the Space Shuttle…all in one package.

The words you live by:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
How to seek out and embrace critical feedback, instead of trying to avoid or ignore it.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Yes, in the right conditions…”Blackbird” by the Beatles.

Slash series: Eric Liu, citizenship/identity

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Eric Liu is founder and CEO of Citizen University and the executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship & American Identity Program. Liu’s books include A Chinaman’s Chance: One Family’s Journey and the Chinese American Dream, The Gardens of Democracy, and The True Patriot. Liu served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President's deputy domestic policy adviser. A columnist for CNN.com and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, Liu serves on numerous civic boards, and can be found on Twitter @ericpliu.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
I am surrounded and shaped by strong women: my mother, my wife, my daughter, my stepdaughter.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
All my work centers on citizenship and American identity. To be American is to be a relentlessly mutating hybrid of memes and genes. The art of citizenship in the United States is the art of activating hybridity and diversity toward a common purpose.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
The eye of Cezanne, the ear of Bach, the soul of Lincoln, the moral courage of John Lewis, the moral imagination of Eleanor Roosevelt, the wit of Mark Twain, the grace (and cut fastball) of Mariano Rivera.

What are you reading?
“The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson; “Leaves of Grass,” by Walt Whitman; “Present at the Creation,” by Dean Acheson. 

What are you listening to?
Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas. They all run together (in a good way).

What are you working on at the moment?
A new book on citizen power.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Maira Kalman.

Word association: Maine...
Granite.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Lincoln.

The words you live by:
Be useful.

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
That the U.S. is running out of time to deal with severe inequality and the concentration of wealth.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Occasionally, with a very limited repertoire of Elvis and Hank Williams.

Slash series: Irene Au, meditation/design

Speaker: Irene Au builds and leads teams that design products people love and can't live without. She is the design operating partner at Khosla Ventures, where she works with portfolio companies to make their design great. Irene has unprecedented experience leading design at large scale consumer internet companies, as she has led the entire UX organization at Google, Yahoo!, and Udacity. She also teaches yoga and meditation at Avalon Art and Yoga Center, one of Palo Alto’s oldest and most established yoga studios.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
To mashup seemingly disparate, unrelated fields and/or ideas into a single whole.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
The compassion of the Dalai Lama, the prolific passion of Pablo Picasso, the design vision of Dieter Rams.

What are you reading?
"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.

What are you listening to?
Tame Impala.

What are you working on at the moment?
Helping startups be successful, building my dream house, and creating content for my next yoga + meditation retreat.

Word association: Maine...
Lobster!

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Charles and Ray Eames.

The words you live by:
Love.

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
To practice meditation and yoga (not just the physical kind) every day.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
I'll be sleeping!

Slash series: Alexa Clay, informal/formal innovation

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Alexa Clay is a leading expert on subculture and innovation from unlikely places. She is the co-author of "The Misfit Economy," a book that explores underground and informal innovation. Alexa works to create bridges and opportunities for misfit subcultures within the formal economy. She is the Founder of Wisdom Hackers, an incubator for philosophical inquiry, as well as the Co-Founder of the League of Intrapreneurs, a movement to create change from within incumbent systems and big organizations.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
In May, I rented country singer Barbara Mandrell's old tour bus from the 80s and took a cross-country road trip with author Peter Sims and a bunch of social innovators (the BLK SHP, "black sheep") through the deep South, rust belt, and prairie states to better understand the state of America's small towns. We met some incredible misfits working from the ground up—without government permission or professional remit—to grow the resilience of their communities. The purpose of the trip was really to explore how the entrepreneurial mindset is being applied outside of the fancy tech hubs of Silicon Valley and New York City. There is incredible grit and hustle that I witnessed. It really made me think more about community as a renewable resource, something that needs to be invested in if we want civic culture to blossom.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
Hybrid speaks to the need to be multi-disciplinary and cross-sector. It's also about weaving communities that don't often get to encounter one another. With my book “The Misfit Economy,” for example, I'm trying to find a way to bridge audiences between mainstream entrepreneurs and street hustlers and black market innovators. I've sent the book to leading executives, but also to gang leaders and prisoners. And the hope is that the book becomes an invitation for unusual convening.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
The intuition and conviction of Joan of Arc, the existential irony of Nietzsche, the soul of Rumi, and the passion of D.H. Lawrence's protagonists.

What are you reading?
Gabriella Coleman's book on hackers and anonymous. The new biography of Coco Chanel. Ned Beauman's “Boxer, Beetle.” 

What are you listening to?
I'm currently producing a new podcast with Antonio Fernandez, the leader of the Latin Kings. It's a bit of a riff on “Serial,” but aims to explore important issues of gang culture, race and poverty in America.

What are you working on at the moment?
A few things. I'm currently researching the formalization of black market economies like marijuana and moonshine. I'm interested in how we create inclusive innovation ecosystems. There are tons of people in prison, for example, who have incredible expertise in the drugs business, but are not part of the marijuana gold rush right now as it's being legalized in many states. I also have become very interested in moonshine (you can make some incredible cocktails), but also how that informal market is becoming enabled. In Tennessee, for example, moonshine is now legal. And there are some interesting companies—like Sugarlands Distilling Company—deep in Appalachia that are finding ways of working with old timey moonshiners to modernize their product.

I'm also working on an essay exploring the revolutionary potential of LARP (live action role playing). I'm very interested in the ways in which we can use game design to prototype possible futures that we can embody and experience. The future of finance without money. The future of relationships without monogamy. The future of nation without centralized government. 

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Sputniko! Love the exploration of technology and alternative futures.

Word association: Maine...
Lobster, camping, hermit life...I def. have a fantasy of being a little old woman with a cottage in Maine.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
I was at a conference in Rotterdam (the Netherlands), where they hired actors to bring Buckminster Fuller and others to life to deliver some of their historic lectures. It was a great idea because many old ideas are ripe for exploration in this moment. Personally, I think I'd like to see Ayn Rand in conversation with Socrates, mostly because I think the libertarian free market ideology is very appealing to folks and needs a bit more dissection and poking by the Socratic method. I def. love the idea of bringing historical figures to life to have anachronistic conversations with thinkers from different time periods who have very different cultural influences.

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
That history rarely delivers the blueprint for the revolution you want. Things are messy. There is no petri dish. Everything is in flux and flow and there is no "blank slate" upon which to start making a dent in the world. Work with what is and the realities and constraints of the cultures and systems you are born into.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
I'd have to drink a whole lot of moonshine. Then I'd go with Joan Jett or something rock and roll.

Slash series: Eddie Opara, design/tech/strategy

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Eddie Opara, partner at Pentagram, is a multi-faceted designer whose work encompasses strategy, design and technology. He’s won numerous awards, including a Gold Cube from the Art Directors Club and honors from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), D&AD, and I.D. magazine. In 2012 and 2014, he was named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Opara has work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and he’s a visiting critic at the Yale School of Art.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
I'm British Nigerian. I'm an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan.  

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
The combination between the print world and digital.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
The intellect of Malcolm Gladwell, the humor of Chris Rock, the creativity of David Adjaye. 

What are you reading?
Malcolm Gladwell’s "What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures."

What are you listening to?
Spotify, Mos Def, Shalamar, Metronomy, Kele. 

What are you working on at the moment?
A lot of things. But if I had to name one thing a book on high yield.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Maira Kalman, Phillip Tiongson and Ben Fry.

Word association: Maine...
Green, blue and pink.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Martin Luther King, Jr. talking about the future.

The words you live by:
"To Dare is to Do" - Tottenham Hotspur's motto. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
Don't do web design!

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Yes, Michael Jackson's anything from the Off The Wall album. 

Slash series: Giorgia Lupi, design/data

With PopTech: Hybrid just a few months away, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Take a peek inside the minds of this "slash generation" and sign up to be part of the Hybrid this Oct 22-24 in Camden, Maine.

Speaker: Giorgia Lupi is an information designer. Her work in information visualization frequently crosses the divide between digital and print, exploring visual models and metaphors to represent dense and rich data-driven stories. She is co-founder and design director at Accurat, an information design company based in Milan and New York.

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
I don’t code. I work with data and data visualization but I don’t code. I am obsessed with drawing.

What does hybrid mean to you from the perspective of your work?
Matching art and science, exploring how data-driven experiences can connect people, how they can be human and warm if well designed. Data is more than numbers. It always stands for something else, representing real life. It can be a snapshot of the world in the same way that a picture catches small moments in time.

My ideal hybrid of a person would be:
Open-minded and passionate like a kid, experienced and wise like a grandfather.

What are you reading?
“An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth,” by Chris Hadfield.

What are you listening to?
Kormac – “Wash My Hands.”

What are you working on at the moment?
/ Dear Data, a personal project dealing with data, drawings, and a series of weekly postcards exchanged across the ocean with data illustrator Stefanie Posavec.

/ Visu, a web-based tool to allow non-designers to create high-end custom data visualizations.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Maira Kalman and Sputniko!

Word association: Maine...
Lighthouse.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
John Cage.

The words you live by:
Make things, a lot of things. Make time for side projects and silly ideas. Dare and have fun.

What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
You don’t need to have everything figured out to be happy.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
Yes! Go-to song: Nothing particular, will wing anything if I can read the lyrics. :) (More fun.)