Journal: News & Comment

Sunday, February 12, 2006
# 8:57:00 PM:

Beginning with f-stops, ending with joy

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Julie and JenThe benefits of conferences like this weekend's Moose Camp/Northern Voice and the upcoming Gnomedex in June are bit hard to pin down. They're not strictly technical—you don't necessarily leave knowing how to code better PHP or take advantage of tax loopholes or fix your camera—rather, both Northern Voice and Gnomedex focus almost as much on the social and business aspects of computing as on the machinery of it all.

What I really get out of them is the trends you can smell in the air. Because some of the people who help invent new technological things—technically yes, but also socially and entrepreneurially—show up and speak at these events, and chat in the halls, and go to dinner, you can start to suss out that, for example, stuff is really changing in the worlds of online video and music and digital identities. And you get to meet people who create honest lists of ten reasons to date a geek (thanks, Maryam), or who point to cool video sites that make MPEG-4 and Flash versions of your movies on the fly (thanks, Robert), or get you excellent hotel deals (thanks, Tris) without telling you what hotel you're visiting until after you pay (and that's okay).

Here was the big trend: while there was certainly a lot of talk of technicalities, in almost every session I went to, attendees steered the conversation in other directions, away from the gadgety-ness of it all and into the mind and heart. In the session, we spent awhile talking about lenses and f-stops and such, but ended discussing beauty and inspiration and art. In Colin Brumelle's music presentation, we started with business models and technology, yet ended talking about joy. One of the best panels was all about love.

As I noted last year, what's interesting about Northern Voice in particular is the mix of participants: women and men, experts and beginners, old and young, local and visitor. This year seemed busier than last, and more egalitarian.

The buzz from the self-organized Moose Camp spilled over into the main sessions, so that even when there were people onstage, the audience wasn't afraid to talk back or even take over, to interact, to support, and to challenge. People came and went, took and posted thousands of photos, blogged and instant-messaged and podcasted in the background. It was less like a meeting than a hive. Rather than sitting and blogging it all, I walked around and talked to people, and used the wonderful Nikon camera I borrowed from Alastair Bird to try to capture people, and smiles.

I didn't photograph this, but in one of the other rooms of the UBC Robson Square Conference Centre there was some sort of business meeting. The slides I spotted on their projection screen as I walked by were the worst stereotypes of brain-numbing multi-level bullet-list PowerPoint hell. I got the feeling that many people at are on a mission, conscious or not, to take technology away from that sort of hell, to help it become something that brings people yet closer together, to take it off the screen to wherever we need it to go to become our better selves.

And then I came home, and had dinner and wine and bread with lobster oil with my wife and daughters and our friends and their young son—and my wife and her friend and us guys, their husbands, discussed the new podcast that those two lovely women, the non-geeky, are about to start. So the trends in the air spread their joy, and the world is changed.


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