PopTech Blog

Know your rebels: Meet Alec Ross

With PopTech: Rebellion just around the corner, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Get to know some of the fascinating people you'll see take the stage and sign up to join the Rebellion this Oct 23-25 in Camden, Maine. 

Speaker: Alec Ross, leading expert on innovation; former senior innovation advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
Worked as a midnight janitor and on a beer truck in West Virginia.

What does being a rebel mean to you?
Taking incoming fire because you are bombing the right targets.

What are you reading?
The Director” by David Ignatius and “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

What are you listening to?
I'm using YouTube to re-live the music of the 1980s. It's cheesy and it makes me happy happy happy.

What are you working on at the moment?
A book about the industries of the future.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Helen Fisher.

Word association: Maine…

My rebellion soundtrack would be: 
Smashing Pumpkins' Gish.

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

Best piece of advice you've ever received:
Live abroad.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
You don't want me near a karaoke machine.

John Maeda talks to "Innovation Hub" about design, tech, & PopTech

We're big fans of "Innovation Hub," a national radio program that features some of today's most creative thinkers. It's why we're excited to partner with them around PopTech: Rebellion! They will be joining and reporting from the Rebellion next month in Camden. Over the coming months, you'll see some of their amazing content cross-posted on the PopTech blog. To kick things off, they recently sat down with conference host John Maeda to talk all things design, tech, and of course —PopTech. 

John Maeda Designs the Future 
Read the original post on "Innovation Hub" here.  

Big, beige, boxy. 

The gadgets of the past probably weren't the most visually interesting — but what mattered was inside, the technology that no one had ever seen before. 

“Technology used to be the only reason you’d buy a high tech gadget. You wanted to know what was in it,” says John Maeda, a design partner at Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm that’s backed companies like Amazon and Google.

Maeda, who's an award-winning designer, has a foot in both the artistic and technological worlds. He’s the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, but he also studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and worked in the MIT Media Lab (now run by Joi Ito).

It's a combination that makes him particularly well suited to today's tech landscape — and that's drawn him a huge following in Silicon Valley (and on Twitter, of course). 

“It used to be only a few people could make these things [gadgets], but now, everyone can make these things. So design’s become a differentiator."

But distinguishing between types of design is crucial, Maeda notes. There’s surface design - the sleek silver or candy-colored cases - and there’s deeper design.

“Real great design,” says Maeda,” isn’t about the wow effect, it’s about the after wow effect. You buy it, you bring it home, and after a month you’re like, wow.”

Tech companies themselves used to think of design as an afterthought, but up-and-coming businesses are starting to fully integrate programmers and artistic types.

Snapchat - which Kleiner Perkins recently invested in - is an example of a company that placed design at the core of a product. Its founders realized that people want an app that deletes messages soon after they're opened, reducing tech clutter in much the same way you might reduce clutter in your closet.

“In the past, you’d have technologists make a product and add design. Snapchat was done by hybrid people, people who design and code, so the concept is embedded in the technology.”

In late October, John Maeda (and we at Innovation Hub) will head to Camden, Maine for the annual PopTech conference. There, he hopes to think creatively about the future - what trends are shaping our world, where technology is headed, and how it's changing us as people.

Postcard from PopTech 18

PopTech is just around the corner and it's been exciting to bring together some old and new friends to the old (definitely not new, but still beautiful :-) opera house in Camden, Maine. There's a mood in the world around connecting design, technology, and people -- and there's no better place on earth than October 23 to 25 in one of the prettiest towns in the US with some incredible speakers mixed-in with a fantastic audience spanning the US and the world. I just spoke with WGBH's Innovation Hub Radio Host Kara Miller about why we want design more than ever in the digital era, and why being at PopTech 18 is an especially good idea right now.

Speakers at this 18th year of PopTech include: 

and the full list is right over here.

As of September 6 there are just a few seats left [registration link] -- hope to see you there, and if you aren't able to get a pass this year then definitely at PopTech 19! -JM

Know your rebels: Meet David D. Burstein

With PopTech: Rebellion just around the corner, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Get to know some of the fascinating people you'll see take the stage and sign up to join the Rebellion this Oct 23-25 in Camden, Maine. 

Speaker: David D. Burstein, CEO and co-founder of Run for America 

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
Five years ago I began an effort to watch all of the greatest films ever made (numbering several thousand), and I have a little over 1,000 left to go.

What does being a rebel mean to you?
Questioning absolutely everything.

What are you reading?
Summer Meditations” by Vaclav Havel, “The Circle” by Dave Eggers, and “So Damn Much Money” by Robert Kaiser.

What are you listening to?
It’s summer, so the entire Van Morrison discography is on loop.

What are you working on at the moment?
Running Run for America, we’re trying to break gridlock in Washington and restore imagination and innovation into government by electing a new generation of hyper-talented leaders to office.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
Sarah Lewis, I think she’s brilliant, I heard her talk a few months ago and she blew me away. Ditto on Courtney Martin, am a big fan of hers, we have the same publisher and we’ve been trying to get together for a while and I think it’s finally going to happen at PopTech.

Word association: Maine...

My rebellion soundtrack would be:
“Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan), “Jump” (Van Halen), “Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones), “You Can Get It If You Really Want” (Jimmy Cliff), “Stage Fright” (The Band), and “Rebel Rebel” (Bowie)…I had to.

If you could pick one historical figure to watch give a PopTech talk, who would it be?
Benjamin Franklin, he was the original American innovator and rebel.

Know your rebels: Meet Courtney Martin

With PopTech: Rebellion just around the corner, we decided to ask our speakers a few burning questions. Get to know some of the fascinating people you’ll see take the stage and sign up to join the Rebellion this Oct 23-25 in Camden, Maine. 

Speaker: Courtney Martin, author and Solutions Journalism Network co-founder

What's one thing you want the PopTech audience to know about you that's not in your bio?
I'm really that interested in other people's stories; it's not bullshit.

What does being a rebel mean to you?
Staying awake.

What are you reading?
Astra Taylor's new book, “The People's Platform.

What are you listening to?
Krista Tippet's “On Being,” obviously. Also “99% Invisible,” Slate's “Culture GabFest, “Call Your Girlfriend,” a relatively new podcast by my homies Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, and the new Center for Investigative Reporting podcast, “REVEAL.

What are you working on at the moment?
Raising a human being, writing a book and a column, trying to convince journalists that it's our duty and privilege to write more about solutions, not just problems, finding the next TED Prize winner, living in a co-housing community, learning to say no earlier and with more grace, making applesauce etc.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at PopTech?
I'm psyched for everyone and ridiculously honored that I get to be in conversation with two of my mentors and heroes, Parker Palmer and Krista Tippett.

Word association: Maine...
My friend J. Courtney Sullivan's bestselling novel by that title.

My rebellion soundtrack would be:
"None of Your Business" by Salt-N-Pepa.

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

Best piece of advice you've ever received:
I don't give advice; I ask questions so you can hear your own wisdom better.

Karaoke? Yes, no, curious. Go-to song?
"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson.

Introducing the 2014 Class of Bellagio/PopTech Fellows

This post is co-authored by PopTech president Leetha Filderman, and Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS. Together they are co-facilitators of the 2014 Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program. 

We are pleased to announce the 2014 class of Bellagio/PopTech Fellows, a diverse group of designers, social innovators, technologists and writers with expertise in technology, global health, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and informal sector economics. 

Sean Blagsvedt, Alexice Tô-Camier, Dominic Muren, Robtel Neajai Pailey, Solomon Prakash

This year's program is focused on rethinking livelihoods. Now more than ever, the world’s population is contending with a multitude of challenges: demographic shifts, environmental stressors, unrestrained financial capital flow, shifting political landscapes, emerging technologies, and changing economic growth patterns and labor markets – all of which are shaping the notion of what livelihoods look like today and may look like in the future. 

For two weeks this August the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows will convene at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. We will collaboratively work to define the notion of livelihood in the 21st century, while simultaneously exploring the challenges, opportunities and complex interdependencies that will impact sustainable livelihood achievement in the coming decades.

Our goal is to initiate a conversation designed to inform and inspire global, national and local efforts to improve livelihoods. Conversations will be complemented and challenged by an incredible group of catalysts, which bring a diverse and unique set of insights to the table.

Areas of exploration will include an examination of the central tenets of livelihoods strategy, the interplay between livelihood productivity at national and individual level, and the opportunities offered by the often-opposing formal and informal sectors. We’ll look at the positive and negative impacts of technology on livelihoods, and how both global security (and insecurity) and the geopolitical landscape impact sustainable development goals. It would be impossible to have this kind of discussion without recognition of the environmental challenges facing the planet, so we’ll be looking at how climate change and other threats could impact livelihoods development now and into the future.

Members of the 2013 class of Bellagio/PopTech Fellows presenting at PopTech 2013

Following their immersion at the Bellagio Center, the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows will reunite in Camden, Maine at PopTech 2014: Rebellion, where they will present their work and explore opportunities for collaboration with the global PopTech network.

About the Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program:
In 2012, PopTech and the Rockefeller Foundation created a joint Fellows program that brings together small, interdisciplinary groups for a two-week immersion program at the Foundation's renowned Bellagio Center in Lake Como, Italy. Learn more about the inaugural class. 

The Bellagio/PopTech Fellows program is designed to be a unique incubator of unconventional collaboration around critical topics relevant to the lives of poor and vulnerable populations, and also serves as a laboratory to study the nature of collaboration itself as a profound tool for creative problem solving and solution development.

President Obama awards Krista Tippett National Humanities Medal

At PopTech: Rebellion this October, Krista Tippett of "On Being" will produce her national radio show live from the PopTech stage. She’ll lead a conversation with culture critic Courtney Martin and Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer around “spiritual technologies” – disciplines to ground outer life that matters. It’s inspired by the notion that rebels across the ages have changed the world but depleted their souls.

In addition to "On Being" previously winning a Peabody Award and Webby, Krista Tippett was awarded one of ten 2013 National Humanities Medals this week by President Barack Obama. The National Humanities Medals are awarded for outstanding achievements in history, cultural studies, cultural commentary, filmmaking, and historic preservation. The announcement states:

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

Previous winners include writer Joan Didion, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg

Congrats to Krista Tippett and the "On Being" team! Join us in October to meet her at PopTech: Rebellion

Image: On Being

Three month countdown! Secure your PopTech lodging

We’re exactly three months away from the kick-off to PopTech: Rebellion! If you’re joining us this October and haven’t yet booked your lodging, we’re here to help. Call or email Colleen Lafferty, PopTech senior experience coordinator and Mainer, for assistance in finding a hotel, inn, B&B, or cottage that best suits your needs. She can be reached at 207-230-2425 or colleen@poptech.org.

If you’re interested in being in the thick of PopTech bustle, the following downtown hotels have a limited number of rooms still available. 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 have blocked out the dates online to reserve space for PopTech participants like you! Happy hotel hunting and please don’t hesitate to contact us for help. 

Camden Riverhouse (800-755-7483)
3 minute walk to Camden Opera house

Blue Harbor House (207-236-3196)
4 minute walk to Camden Opera House

Windward House (877-492-9656)
5 minute walk to Camden Opera House

The Inns at Blackberry Common (800-388-6000) 
6 minute walk to Camden Opera House

Camden Harbor Inn (800-236-4266)
7 minute walk to Camden Opera House

Maine Stay Inn (207-236-9636)
8 minute walk to Camden Opera House

A Little Dream (800-217-0109)
14 minute walk to Camden Opera House

Norumbega (877-363-4646)
15 minute walk to Camden Opera House

Image: Doug Kerr via Flickr

How about a proper toast to 18 in Camden?

Hello there, PopTech historians! This marks the last leg of our journey through PopTech over the last 18 years. We hope you enjoyed learning about some of the fun (and eclectic) facts that define our history. Let us know your favorites with #poptech18. How about joining us this Oct 23-25 at PopTech: Rebellion so we can make some new memories together? Hope to see you there. (Missed Parts 1, 2 or 3? Give them a read.)

Fact #14: On Thursday, Oct 20, we had two “firsts” at PopTech 2011 (on the same day, no less). A head of state and a Nobel Laureate each took the stage: President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland and Rajendra Pachauri. (They also participated in a Q&A together. Watch their 20-minute talks here and here.)  

Fact #15: Call us PopTech…just PopTech. Following PopTech 2013: Sparks of Brilliance, we bid adieu to the “!”.

Fact #16: In 2014, John Maeda joined PopTech as guest host. (Hear why you should come from the man himself.) ICYMI: John has been a long-time PopTech supporter and previous board member. What we’ve learned in our time working together so far: his enthusiasm is contagious and he asks really good questions.  

Fact #17: For many years, our conference program has followed the back-to-back 20-minute talk format. 2014 is the year of the remix. We’ll still feature some of those amazing 20-minute talks. But we’re also adding on-stage conversations led by some of the best voices on radio, panels with wildly talented artists and musicians, and a few surprises. (Scroll beneath the schedule to learn more about Krista Tippett and Joe Palca.)

Fact 18: In our long and winding conference history, we’ve explored a wide range of themes. See examples below. One thing we realized – we’ve rarely had a theme that was simply one word. Enter REBELLION. There’s something to be said about keeping it simple. We like this shift. Here’s to getting older and trying new things.  

PopTech 2000: Being Human in the Digital Age
PopTech 2001: Online, Everywhere, All the Time
PopTech 2004: The New Renaissance 
PopTech 2008: Scarcity and Abundance 
PopTech 2010: Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures and Improbable Breakthroughs  

And lastly, Fact #19: Over the years, we’ve considered permanently moving the PopTech conference somewhere more metropolitan. In an age where conferences are at every turn, we realize how special Camden is to our identity and convening. Hosting in a locale that’s off the beaten path certainly has its advantages. Participants don’t duck out for meetings. They aren’t coming for half a day then returning to the office. Instead, they’re at all sessions, all the parties, all of our random assigned lunches – and that’s something we don’t want to mess with. 


Moments from PopTech past

Summer Fridays! To celebrate the arrival of the weekend (and being 18), we're sharing the next batch of facts from 18 years of PopTech. Store these in your memory bank should a round of trivia break out in Camden at some point during PopTech: Rebellion. Have yourself a merry little weekend. (Here's part 1 and part 2 in case you missed it.) 

Fact #7: At PopTech 2006, Pulitzer-prize winning writer Thomas Friedman took the stage to give a frank talk on the reasons that “this isn’t your parents’ energy crisis” and asked us to redefine what “green” really means. 

Fact #8: At PopTech 2007, our board member John Legend performed and talked about his Show Me campaign, a movement to break the cycle of global poverty through access to quality education. Watch it here

Fact #9: PopTech <3 music. Musical acts we’ve featured at PopTech have ranged from Blitz the Ambassador to Imogen Heap, Zee Avi, OK Go, amiina, and Capital Cities. Dancing is always permitted and encouraged. Enjoy this Spotify playlist of PopTech artists from over the years.


Fact #10: Also at PopTech 2007, the Hungry March Band from Brooklyn stormed the castle and played alongside participants as they exited the Camden Opera House for the closing party.

Fact #11: Jelly fish above! At PopTech 2008, members of Festo suspended a giant jellyfish-like structure from the Camden Opera House ceiling. Aside from being visually interesting, “Air Jelly” was built on the principles of using technology to mimic naturally occurring designs. 

Fact #12: In 2011, when CNN reporter John Sutter described PopTech, he explained:

“…this annual conference in coastal Maine is…a chance to get a look into ideas and technologies that soon will change the world.”

Fact #13: True or False: At PopTech, you might see spacesuits sitting on stage. 
...True. At PopTech 2011, MIT aeronautics professor Dava Newman talked about her quest to create a better spacesuit. The mobility-enhancing “Bio-Suit” below would protect astronauts from the atmospheres and healthcare workers from germs. Watch Dava talk about the suit in this two-minute PopTech video

There's more! See you on Monday for part 4. In the meantime, let us know what else we should add with #poptech18.