PopTech Blog

Thompson-Cannino and Cotton on failure and forgiveness

The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton is one of forgiveness and liberation. In 1984, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was completing her college degree in North Carolina, working a couple of jobs, and dating the man she would later marry. Her life was full. Then she was raped that summer.

When she was assaulted, she did everything she could to remember the details of her attacker — his clothes, his height, his haircut — so that she could identify him later. She testified that Ronald Cotton was the man who raped her. He was found guilty and sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison.

“You can say what you say. I know I’m an innocent man.”

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton

PopTech Accelerator unveils PeaceTXT initiative


As part of its ongoing commitment to fostering breakthrough social innovation and collaboration, PopTech unveiled Friday a new Accelerator initiative, PeaceTXT — a multidisciplinary project to explore the potential of mobile technology to amplify a proven approach to reducing violence.

A collaborative effort among CeaseFire, FrontlineSMS: Medic, and Ushahidi, PeaceTXT is seeking to use mobile mapping and cellular technology to provide CeaseFire team members with valuable new tools in their campaign against urban violence.

“It’s part of our mission to facilitate and orchestrate these kinds of collaborations,” PopTech Accelerator Director Leetha Filderman said. “We believe this has the potential to have a very big impact.”

Gary Slutkin, Leetha Filderman, Patrick Meier and Josh Nesbit during a PopTech 2010 Q&A session


Leila Janah on job creation and poverty alleviation through digital connectivity

More children are receiving an education around the world than ever before. There’s been a surge in human potential. At the same time, employment isn’t readily available to match that potential. Therefore many impoverished youth are going jobless. They don’t want charity. They want a job to help improve their lives.

Leila Janah

With the advent of the inexpensive technology, including $65 netbooks, it has become easier for people to work remotely no matter if they’re in the U.S., Haiti or Africa. Social Innovation Fellow Leila Janah founded Samasource to fuse that increased digital connectivity with people living in poverty to provide computer-based microwork via the Internet. Her philosophy: “Handouts are not going to end global poverty, but work — real work — just might.”

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

Lauren Abramson: Resolving conflict with a handshake, not handcuffs

As the founder of the Community Conferencing Center (CCC), Social Innovation Fellow Lauren Abramson works to alter how society typically responds to crime and conflict — changing the focus from punishment to accountability, healing, and learning.

Lauren Abramson at PopTech 2010

Abramson shares a story about two kids in Baltimore who were arrested for stealing a car. Instead of heading to court, the CCC took the case. The kids and their families, along with the man whose car had been stolen, were brought together to discuss three points: 1) What happened? 2) How have you been affected by what happened? and 3) What do you want to do to make it better and prevent it from happening again?

One of the kids brought his grandfather, who had been raising him, to the reconciliatory meeting. He communicated to his grandson his disappointment at the young man’s behavior. Moved by this reaction, the man whose car was stolen expressed his desire to resolve the incident. The kid not only offered a genuine apology during the session, but also committed to pay the man’s insurance deductible. The kid’s grandfather hired them to work at his church for six weeks to earn the necessary money. All parties involved met again, exchanged handshakes, and the kids paid for the costs associated with the stolen car. In turn, the man then donated those funds back to the grandfather’s church.

This is one success story among the 8,000 people who have convened cases in Baltimore using the CCC, 95% of which have been resolved.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

Project Noah and the future of naturalists

What has the power to stop a careening, kinetic child in his tracks and cause him to gently bend, enraptured, toward a flower? As PopTech Science Fellow and naturalist Yasser Ansari witnessed first-hand, it’s a bee. As children, we all possess a wonderment and curiosity about nature. We have a human need to connect with our planet. Or, as said child put it, “BZZZZ!” 

Yasser Ansari

Ansari’s effort, Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats), strives to be what he calls “a field guide for every organism.” Inspired by Darwin’s Field Guide, bio-instruments, and a little bit of steam punk, the platform encourages citizen scientists to step into the world, eyes open, and begin documenting what they find.


2010 Fellows Kel Sheppey and Ben Dubin-Thaler

Kel Sheppey

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Kel Sheppey asked conference participants on Friday to imagine themselves in a place about as far from the Camden Opera House as possible.

“You live in Zimbabwe, you have AIDS, and the nearest clinic is 70 miles away,” he said. “Most of the AIDS-infected people in Zimbabwe live in conditions just like these.”

As a way to combat the spread of AIDS, Sheppey came up with Wild4Life, an AIDS awareness and testing organization that collaborates with wildlife conservation groups, reaching remote communities and educating them about the importance of AIDS testing and education.

“Everything starts with testing,” he said. “When we began the program, we shot for about 45 percent of the first group being tested. What happened was that 85 percent got tested, and by the third group it was close to 100 percent. If you want people to test, test them in groups.”

The group model’s success led to more revelations about the importance of community awareness and relationships in stopping the spread of AIDS in rural areas. “Working in groups in these communities removes the stigma of testing and encourages healthy behavior,” he said.

Sheppey said the goal for Wild4Life is to create a menu of programs tailored to specific communities. By partnering with other organizations, using conservation groups as an extended network, Sheppey hopes to completely stop the spread of AIDS by leveraging influence within communities.

“We have to imagine what could happen if we got all of this right.”

Ben Dubin-Thaler

2010 Science and Public Leadership Fellow Ben Dubin-Thaler drives a bus. Dubin-Thaler, a biologist and founder of Cell Motion Laboratories Inc., drives the BioBus, a repurposed transit bus outfitted with a high-tech science lab that serves as a mobile laboratory to get kids interested in science.

“Students get on the bus and get exposure to real hands-on science,” Dubin-Thaler says. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see what real science looks like.”


Stephanie Coontz on Redefining our Notions of Love

Stephanie Coontz

What makes for a happy marriage?

Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families and the author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, says the answer lies in understanding that marrying for love is a radical idea.

Coontz notes that little interactions between couples are important indicators of a successful marriage. It reveals how much interest and respect a couple has for each other.

What also counts in a marriage, say Coontz, is how well a couple can manage household duties together. Here, it should come as no surprise that men and women have different understandings of marital satisfaction.

The best predictors for marital satisfaction among men? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is how little criticism and how much sex he gets. According to Coontz, that has not changed since the 1960s. What has changed is how he gets it. A modern-day marriage, says Coontz, requires much more give and take—and much more help around the house. One of the predictors of a woman’s happiness in a marriage directly relates to how much a spouse contributes to household and childcare tasks.

Coontz concludes with a win-win situation scenario for each sex: The more that household and childcare duties are split between a couple, the less criticism and more sex that the man is likely to get, and the happier the woman is likely to be.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

Orlagh O'Brien wants to know how you feel

How do other people feel? It’s a simple question, but for graphic designer Orlagh O’Brien, an important one.

“At first, the question seemed flaky,” she said from the conference stage Friday. “But I had this sense that people feel emotions in their bodies, and I wanted to see what would happen if I asked such a really open-ended question.”

Orlagh O'Brien

O’Brien gave a simple test to a group of 250 people over the course of a month. Asking respondents to describe five emotions – anger, joy, fear, sadness, and love – in drawings, colors, and words, O’Brien ended up with a set of media she used to create Emotionally}Vague, an online graphic interpretation of the project’s results.


Elizabeth Dunn on taking time to enjoy chocolate

If you were on a hike and stumbled across a beautiful waterfall, what would you do? Would you stick around to enjoy it or continue along your way, generally unfazed? Elizabeth Dunn, an experimental researcher in the University of British Columbia’s psychology department, has conducted studies showing that people with more money tend to be less joyful and appreciative of those moments.

Elizabeth Dunn

So do people with more money experience less happiness? Savor less? Dunn set forth to find this answer. On campus at the University of British Columbia, she offered students a piece of chocolate. Beforehand, she showed some students a photo of Canadian money (because psychologically, people merely shown an image of money produces the same effect as actually being wealthy) and other people were shown a neutral image. Covert operatives from Dunn’s team then observed the chocolate recipients and noticed that those shown the money image along with the chocolate tended to spend less time eating it and generally exhibited less enjoyment. She added, “But that doesn’t mean that if your boss offers you a raise, you should turn it down.”


In-between moments and interesting introductions

Some of the most interesting moments at PopTech happen between and before the sessions: you never know when you’re going to walk into the Opera House and be greeted by a enormous shimmering, crystal spiderweb or a flying, robotic jellyfish.

This year, PopTech engaged video production companies m ss ng p eces and Dark Igloo to create some funny, sweet, thought-provoking clips and slides to introduce us to the sessions and set the tone for the day ahead.

This morning’s introductory video takes a quick look at everyday things going right, everyday things going wrong. Grab some coffee (don’t spill!) and have a look.