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Oct 21

Metcalfe Does His POPTech Recap

by Chad, Conferences, Comments Off on Metcalfe Does His POPTech Recap

Oct 21

October 21, 2006

Bob Metcalfe takes the stage. People behind me notice that with his backpack and sneakers, he looks like he’s taking off somewhere.

My goodness, he’s lost 75 pounds in the last 7 months. He says he “zoned” into a careful diet and says he’s not dying, just dying more slowly. We’re waiting with baited breath. Bob apologizes to the speakers for surely getting what they said wrong. Also, since no one ever really changes their minds, he says that POPTech is mostly pointless (audience laughs).

POPTech started with being an extension of the Camden Conference. It is now an entity all its own, as Bob charts the course of POPTech. I’m enjoying this as I’m a 7 year veteran of this conference. Being Human in the Digital Age, Online All the Time, Articicial Worlds, Sea Change, The Next Renaissance, The Impact of Technology on People, were just some of the headlines and themes of our beloved gatherings. Bob salutes POPTech curator Andrew Zolli, who gets a standing ovation.

[As Bob recounts the highlights of all of the wonderful speakers, I find myself listening more and typing less… playing stenographer as Bob speaks doesn’t seem totally useful. Meanwhile, It’s nice to see two “partiarchs” of POPTech enjoying this epilogue of the conference as John Scully relaxes stage right, smiling softly as Bob makes his way through his deck of cards.]

Interesting that Bob describes Tom Barnett’s talk (on “Taking On Superpowers) as perhaps the best of the conference. (Last year Bob gave this accolade to Dr. Carolyn Porco. He makes special note of the image of the Cassini space probe’s image of a full solar eclipse from behind Saturn as Cassini moves beyond it’s orbit. See Carolyn is the Cassini Imagng Team Leader.) I would have to disagree with Bob on this one. Depending on the the history of your own personal experience and your lens through which you view the world, you can say that EVERY talk was “the best.” That’s not a copout. Barnett’s talk was incredible, but so were many of this year’s speakers. I was simply blown away by people this year (as I often am every year.)

Bob is talking abut interesting potential “duets,” such as Losang Rabgey and the monastic traditions of Tibet alongside Richard Dawkins with his views on science over religion. (I suspect that Dawkins has little quarrel with Buddhism; it may be that he has more significant objections about the impacts of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tenets.)

Closing comments and recap of topics now… Environmental issues, the collective intelligence of Earth; threats to our privacy, genetic engineering, new engineering materials, systemadmin capabilities and stabilizing of failed countries, jihadism, open source, the “long tail”, health sciences… these make up most of the Dangerous Ideas of POPTech 2006.

Now John Scully joins Bob. It’s good to see them both on stage, recounting the founding ideas of POPTech. Bob says PT is the emergence of complex system from a set of simple rules. The core ingredients of POPTech as a successful conference are fascinating – I’d imagine that publishing these elements somewhere would be a good idea. Scully talks about the grassroots effort – including our volunteers – and how philosophically, we all approached these subjects with an intellectual stance of great curiosity. The things that started PT carry a derivative effect to where we are today. We have broadened beyond just technology. Innovation, a wide range of fields, has emerged. Artists, performers, and others also make PT exciting.

John says that the audience is just as importance in playing a role as the speakers. (I’d say that a remarkable experience is interacting with the speakers, who often stay throughout the conference when they can.)

Technology is ubiquitous as Bob says in this conversation, and now all “the rest” of the issues of the world make the POPTech stage. Now we go to comments from the audience, like a town hall meeting. Andrew comments about the structure of POPTech, and talks about turnover with fresh faces in recent years among attendees, that’s there’s new blood in the room. It used to be that there were more “regulars,” and that has recently changed. (However, I think it’s also because of recent, large jumps in the price of admission. Gentrification happens everywhere it seems.)

Some ideas about where POPTech is going. It’s becoming a year-round concept. Outreach will happen where POPTech makes it’s presence in other places around the world (he doesn’t mean it will be held outside of Camden, I think).

We are about to head to the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. It wraps there with a wonderful dinner gala alongside among gorgeously restored airplanes and vintage automobiles. Bravo POPTech 2006!

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Posted by Mike at 6:55 PM | Comments (0)

“American Hostage” at the POPTech 2006 Conference

The POPTech audience sat in rapt silence as Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton told their story described in their new book, “American Hostage.” In 2003 Micah and Marie-Helene were in Iraq chronicling the looting of historical articacts from archeological sites dating back thousands of years. Two days before being scheduled to leave, Micah and his Iraqi translater Amir Doshe were kidnapped by insurgent fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a crowded market in Nasiriyah.

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A remarkable aspect of this story was told by Marie-Helene about how Micah’s release was made possible by the grassroots, tech-enabled efforts by a wide social network that she and Micah’s family enlisted both in America and among people on the ground (connected to the local clerics) inside Iraq. She made a particular point that – in addition to traditional channels – this network rallied a vast array of people to help conduct the delicate negotiations that rescued Micah and Amir (after a tense ten days in captivity) .

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One thing that I said to Micah and Marie-Helene after their talk was how powerfully this came across – as a love story. There was one moment in particular during their talk where Micah described how his friend Amir was beaten while blindfolded in captivity. He had to stop for a moment, and you could feel the tears welling up as he tried to regain his composure before the 500+ (totally silent) people in our audience. Marie-Helene gently reached over and touched his hand in a tender gesture. I found myself feeling flush with emotion just witnessing that, as I’m sure others did too.

Another aspect of this story was how fragile events can be that can tilt destiny in one direction versus the next. Although Micah was essentially “undercover” in Iraq, mostly blending into the country with his olive skin and bushy mustache, what tipped his would-be captors that he was an “outsider” was a small digital camera that he had in his hand in the Nasiriyah marketplace. How strange that his destiny shifted in that one brief moment when the camera was spotted.

Micah’s gratitude for his release was framed in the context of the terrible executions of two other hostages who preceded him: Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg. The Pearl reference struck close to home for me, since my office in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is also home to the Berkshire Eagle newspaper, where Pearl was a reporter before joining the Wall St Journal.

Later that evening, in a restaurant with Dan Costa, a senior editor with PC Magazine, we talked about how we wished our country could be more conscious of the thousands of soldiers who did not get out of Iraq alive like Micah Garen.

That being said, it was a wonderful experience hearing and later meeting Micah and Marie-Helene. I imagine that their lives will have a future filled with purpose as they raise awareness among people who get to hear their remarkable story.

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