PopTech 2009 http://poptech.org/2009schedule/, one of the world’s best thought leadership events, opened the doors to participants at its 13th annual event starting today in Camden, Maine. Thanks to support from Livestream, the entire conference will be simulcast free at poptech.org/live from Thursday 22nd – Saturday 24th October (9:00 am – 6:00 p.m. EST daily).
Over 600 preeminent thought-leaders, social innovators and change agents from a wide range of fields are convening for a shared exploration of America’s opportunities, its challenges, and its future; and will be examining cutting-edge ideas in education, energy, entrepreneurship, and the many systems on which America’s future wealth depends – from the social impact of new technologies, to the forces of change shaping our future, and how to take action on new approaches to making the world a better place.
The conference brings together over 70 thought-leaders including Michael Pollan, Robert Guest, Esther Duflo, Daniel Ariely, Kurt Andersen, Daniel Goleman, as well as other emerging thought leaders such as Daniel Nocera, Neri Oxman, Michael Wesch, John Fetterman, Erica Williams, Marije Vogelzang, and internationally known performers including Zoe Keating, John Forté, and Anthony Doer; as well as many thousands of viewers online, who are able join the discussion live via Twitter @poptech and submit questions over email to questions [at] poptech [dot] org.
The class of 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows will be presenting their projects to conference participants – they include: Aviva Presser Aiden & Hugo Van Vuuren with Lebônê, Jason Aramburu with re:char, Eben Bayer with Ecovative Design, Paula Kahumbu with WildlifeDirect, Deb Levine with ISIS, Inc., Derek Lomas with Playpower Foundation, Josh Nesbit with FrontlineSMS:Medic, James O’Brien with Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, Ory Okolloh with Ushahidi, Emily Pilloton with Project H Design, Hayat Sindi with Diagnostics For All, Taylor Stuckert & Mark Rembert with Energize Clinton County, and Nigel Waller with Movirtu.
(See the entire release.)
The morning began cold and wet, but the Camden Opera House quickly brightened as attendees for PopTech 2009 arrived to fill it to buzzing capacity. First to take on the big task of getting on the big stage were writer Kurt Andersen, Duke economics professor Dan Ariely, and jazz musician Logan Richardson. Joining them were PopTech Fellow Emily Pilloton of Project H Design.
To open, Logan Richardson played an upbeat and soulful rendition of America the Beautiful on the saxophone. The song set the tone for this year’s theme: America Reimagined. PopTech curator Andrew Zolli then welcomed the crowd with his trademark wit and enthusiasm, and laid out what promises to be an exciting, engaging and inspiring three days in Maine. Zolli also displayed a picture of his new, lovely baby daughter and revealed how becoming a parent has changed him both on a personal level and by helping him to be more expansive in his thinking about the world we’re leaving our children.
The speakers and performers at PopTech this year are examining the questions: Is reinvention possible? What would it look like? Here’s the beginning of this conversation.
Kurt Andersen was the first to frame a response to this question. He referenced America in the 80’s and its “living large” mentality: bigger cars and bigger houses and more and more consumption. With our emphasis on youth culture and instant gratification, “We took Peter Pan” said Andersen, “a little too seriously.” As a result, our politics have become more impatient, even “brattier”, resulting in shouting matches and poorly-spelled placards waved self-righteously in town hall meetings. Andersen drew a parallel between the Roaring 20’s and the 1980’s and how they share similar political backstories leading up to market crashes.
In the last twenty-five years, we’ve already gone through enormous change: closer to equality for women; more tolerance for gay people; murder rates down. The change that is happening now with old industries dying will give opportunity for newer and smaller enterprises. If Andersen’s cycles predict accurately, people will now pursue work that makes them happy rather than wealthy. People are taking the chance to reinvent themselves since more traditional job paths are failing. Sustainability needs to go beyond environmental and encompass finances, health care, education.
If our story of reinvention is to be written, said Andersen, a big part of it needs to be about embracing the amateur spirit. Amateurs embrace new challenges, don’t worry as much about rules or what people think of them. A happy by-product of the past twenty-five years has been the rise of the amateur, especially on the web. This will be one of things that gets us to a new era, but we will need humility as well as passion and enthusiasm. Andersen himself took a firing fifteen years ago to reinvent himself into who he is now and expressed his hope that the PopTech community will be able do the same from changes that will arise in their lives.
Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, referenced the foolishness of certain actions (e.g. texting while driving), what he calls “small irrationalities” that we do every day. These can lead up to big problems. With our current model of labor, for instance, we reward people with rest. This doesn’t really capture what it is that engages people, what causes them to want to work. The structure of bonuses in similar: it’s assumed that the promise of money will make people work harder. Arielly’s studies have shown that we are not necessarily inspired by more money, as money is both a motivator and a stressor. So what does this mean for Wall Street and our spending patterns in general? And how do successfully map incentive to performance?
Arielly brought his research to some bankers, who identified themselves as “special.” The bankers felt they needed the bonuses and related stress to enable them to excel at their jobs, although they declined to be tested. So Arielly took his research team to study basketball, specifically “clutch players” who are paid millions of dollars to perform in the last five minutes of the game. It turns out that clutch players do perform better, but it’s correlates more with the number of chances they get to practice; since their teammates are more inclined to pass to them (believing them to be better players). Stress without this belief doesn’t cause improvement.
Then you have a man who smells shoes for a living whom Ariely referenced. He is more motivated by meaning and social forces – is he happy in his job? Andersen’s research shows that the motivators of rest time and money are in fact not effective. As this is the model our free markets are based on, we need to examine what truly makes someone happy at work both for our health and the health of our economy.
Emily Pilloton founded Project H Design in 2008. Currently, about 300 designers from all over the world are working on 22 different projects rooted-in design thinking. Pilloton describes the projects as simple, but the problems they are solving for are quite complex, such as a bag for homeless people that coverts into a hammock. At a Mexican school, they designed new tables that fostered better interaction between students and involved members of the community in their creation and design.
Project H’s ultimate goal is global scalability. They are looking for help in scaling all aspects of the business from the PopTech community.
Photo credit:Kris Krug
At today’s special session “The New Edge of Conservation”, leading practitioners of ecological conservation Katy Payne, Healy Hamilton and PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu walked us through some of the latest technologies being employed in their respective fields.
Animal communication expert Katy Payne played clips of whale and elephant songs and discussed how their ways of communication could inform ours. Real-time monitoring of a group of elephants displayed complex social interactions. Payne played a video clip of a baby elephant that, left unattended by an inexperienced mother, was alternately kidnapped and rejected by other female elephants. The language of elephants, Payne noted, is emerging to be, like ours, heavily influenced by emotion.
PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct spoke on how her organization is helping to mobilize conservationists in protecting wildlife in central Africa. She explained how cattle-killing lions are being intentionally poisoned by cheap pesticides as humans increasingly encroach on their territory. Poisoning kills not only the lions, she said, but hyenas, vultures and other wildlife.
Lions have also traditionally been hunted by the nomadic Maasai people. Lion warriors, called “Moran”, used to kill a lion as a part of a cultural ritual into manhood, said Kahumbu. One Masai young man, Antony Kasanga, decided he wanted to protect lions rather than kill them, so he founded a group called the Lion Guardians. Kasanga began blogging with Wildlife Direct to tell the story of lions. By using the power of social media, Kasanga and other bloggers at Wildlife Direct are able to engage people all over the world in the importance of saving African wildlife. Wildlife Direct is now exploring new tools, such as partnering with PopTech alumn Ushahidi to provide real-time visualization of what’s happening on the ground, whether it be observing a rare species in its natural habitat or bearing witness to poaching.
Biodiversity researcher Healy Hamilton wants us to also take a broader view of conservation. Rather than looking at individual parks and species, she says, we should look at how climate change is impacting the environment as a whole. Emphasizing the importance of an animal’s ability to roam to find food, mates and shelter, she traced the steps of a wolverine wearing a satellite radio collar. Researchers found that his territory included hundreds of square miles (including scaling the highest peak of Glacier National Park in the middle of winter).
Her campaign Freedom to Roam uses “connectivity conservation” to create landscapes that allow animals and humans to co-exist. Creating wildlife corridors (such as bridges and tunnels so that animals can cross roads) will connect otherwise isolated patches of habitat and allow species to roam, thus ensuring a thriving and diverse wildlife population. Diverse groups of people like hunters and treehuggers need to work together to protect wildlife or we’ll end up with a species-poor plant and animal population.
All of these tools are providing new insight and data about how we as a species are impacting our environment. As Healy Hamilton observed, this is the first time we’ve been able to really measure change as it is happening around us. But, Paula Kahumbu reminded us, “technology won’t change the world; changing our hearts will.”
Photo credit: Shashi Bellamkonda/@shashib
Wine Tasting with Philippe Newlin, Playing the Cello with Hans Jensen, and Daniel Coyle on Practicing at PopTech 2009
This crisp afternoon, six different Wednesday PopTech 2009: America Reimagined sessions took place around Camden and surrounding areas.
Under the exposed beams of High Mountain Hall, Philippe Newlin, Wine ‘Professor’ at both Columbia and Yale universities, as well as former Tasting Director of Wine and Spirits magazine showed PopTechers the best American wines they had never heard of (learn the Italian designation for a superior wine in this video):
Learn how to play a little cello with Master Teacher Hans Jensen:
And Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code explains the ‘Clint Eastwood’ look and how some students make wild progress during practicing:
Other Wednesday sessions included:
a social innovation design panel with Sheila Kennedy, William Drenttel, Kevin McSpadden, John Bielenberg, and PopTech Fellow Emily Pilloton,
a new edge of conservation panel with Katy Payne, Healy Hamilton, and PopTech Fellow Paula Kahumbu,
a storytelling presentation session with the Duarte design team,
and a workshop about building a wooden boat using traditional methods at the Atlantic Challenge maritime school with Eric Stockinger.
Also, great photos from today so far from Kris Krug (our official PopTech 2009 photographer) and Erik Hersman (our Fellows 2009 photographer) in the PopTech 2009 Flickr pool; you can add yours to the group pool—please add the ‘poptech’ tag so we can find your images.
What Wednesday session did you attend? How was your experience?
Registration is open in the Washington St. Lounge inside the Opera House (take a right on the street just before the Opera House), here’s a peek at the activity there:
Wednesday sessions begin at 2:00 pm and require registration; we’ll post more from some of the sessions later today.
You can add your photos and video to the Flickr pool and please tag your tweets, images, and video with #poptech.
Here in Camden, we’re incredibly excited that PopTech 2009: America Reimagined, our thirteenth annual gathering, is about to begin.
It’s our largest event ever, and we’re preparing to welcome more than 600 remarkable thinkers, leaders and doers including: Michael Pollan, Robert Guest, Esther Duflo, Daniel Ariely, James Fowler, Dean Ornish, Kurt Andersen, Neri Oxman and many others. Check out the full schedule at: poptech.org/2009schedule/.
If you’re not joining us in person this week, you can still participate live and online. We’ll be webcasting the entire event for free from Thursday 22nd – Saturday 24th October, from 9.00 a.m – 6.30 p.m. EST at PopTech.org/Live You can:
- Submit questions to speakers: questions [at] Poptech [dot] org
- Read ongoing updates on the PopTech blog: Poptech.org/blog
- Follow us on Twitter: @PopTech and #poptech
No matter how you do it, we invite you to watch, listen and get involved. It’s going to be a great week!
And near the PopTech Camden office, more boxes are being unloaded (that’s your PopTech Concierge Keryn),
and people are hanging from the ceiling in the Camden Opera House preparing for PopTech 2009 that begins tomorrow…
All images in this post are CC images from 2009 Teaching Fellow Erik Hersman from his Flickr set.
We have had a busy few days at the PopTech 2009 Fellows Program (you can follow the #poptech hashtag on Twitter to see more of what we have been talking about) as the PopTech 2009 conference (streaming live), starting on Wednesday and where each of the Fellows will present, draws closer.
Building on the initial branding and leadership sessions of Cheryl Heller of Heller Communication Design
CC image of Cheryl Heller talking with Fellow Hayat Sindi by Kristen Taylor
and Mukara Meredith of Matrixworks,
Mukara Meredith talking with Paula Kahumbu
Jim Koch of the Global Social Benefit Incubator gave examples of social projects and scale,
and then Clara Miller of Nonprofit Finance Fund talked about what it means to be a profitable business (she uses Teaching Fellow Erik Hersman and Fellow Nigel Waller to help illustrate below).
Then yesterday, Kevin Starr, Director of Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program talked about steps to impact,
and Robert Fabricant of frog design defined design as a way of thinking rather than only in terms of products,
while Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio made a visual representation of the discussions.
and, smiling (here, Fellows James O’Brien and Ory Okolloh).
More to come from the Fellows program and from the PopTech office here in Maine—
The PopTech office in Camden, Maine hums with activity—-tall stacks of packages are being delivered, the phone rings constantly, friends and townspeople stop in to say hello—-all in preparation for PopTech 2009 starting this Wednesday.
The air is crisp, the leaves have turned, and we are now waiting for the PopTech participants to arrive.
If you are attending PopTech this year, you have probably received an e-mail from Keryn Gottshalk, who works in the Camden office and serves as your concierge, making sure your registration is complete and answering all of your questions about the conference.
You may hear Keryn’s musical laugh before you see her ready smile, and she can help you find your way around Camden this week. (You can also find maps and directions on our site logistics page.)
All of us on staff are here to help you have a wonderful conference experience that leaves you changed, challenged, and invigorated.
We’ll be updating this blog and our Twitter account, @PopTech, before and during the conference. You can leave a question in the comments below, tweet it @PopTech, and attend a session on Wednesday afternoon especially designed for those attending PopTech for the first time.
If you would like to follow along from outside Camden, we will be streaming the conference live all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at poptech.org/live and our conference tag is #poptech.
Safe travels; we look forward to seeing you soon!
Questions? Let us know in the comments.