You can always tell you’ve been to something quite special when the bar rises not only off the scale but out of site. “Amazing. Inspiring. Community. Friends. Special. Overwhelming. Over-fed. Unstoppable”. Just some of the words used by delegates in the closing session on Saturday to describe their Pop!Tech08 experience. Mine would have been “Spiritual”. And yes, with a capital ‘S’.
This was my first Pop!Tech. Two years ago I had never even heard of it, but by last year I had. I wanted to go then, but it was never going to happen. Twelve months can be a long time in mobile, and this was to be my year. It would have been more than enough to have just sat back in Camden Opera House and soak up the amazing atmosphere, like the majority off the 700-odd people fortunate enough to be there. But going as an inaugural Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow made it all the more special. The many people I had the pleasure to spend four days with at the Fellows boot camp made sure of that. Finally getting to spend some quality time with Erik Hersman was one of the highlights, as was our late evening spent in a cabin in the woods with Ethan Zuckerman, beer in hand, while the three of us discussed the intricacies of baseball. Such a shame these moments are so rare, but it’s the rarity that makes them so special, I suppose.
Traditionally, conferences are all about turning up and hearing what you hope to be interesting people talk. Sometimes you get lucky. Here, it didn’t matter, although the speaker line-up was stunning. Pop!Tech felt different because it wasn’t just about speaking, about presenter and presented, but more about dialogue. Everyone there was interested and interesting in their own right. The three days felt like a hyperactive family re-union of massive proportions. People were physically and mentally overwhelmed by it. Pop!Tech is intellectual renewable energy in its purest form. The Camden Opera House was well and truly lit up with it.
Spirituality is a word rarely mentioned in the technology world, although a lot of what I see in the people who work in our little corner of it is spiritual in nature, whether they realise it or not. Hearing about individuals inspired and driven to action by key events – the loss of close friends, suffering or hardship witnessed at first hand, injustice – are strong testament to the strength and presence of that human spirit.
There were many emotional connections at Pop!Tech, many emotional moments, many off-stage but some on. When Zinny Thabethe and Andrew Zolli embraced at the end of a stirring session about the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa, their arms reached out and embraced us all. It’s these moments that leave me struggling for a word other than ‘conference’. Conferences just don’t do that.
Industry events now have a lot to live up to, although it would be unfair to judge them against Pop!Tech’s incredibly high standards and rather unique positioning. But, if I can’t help myself, there’s always Pop!Tech09, I guess… \o/