More from PopTech in Maine…
I think I can summarize Clay Shirky’s presentation on “social software” in just a few words: The most popular Weblogs are a lot more popular than the least popular Weblogs. (This is known as a “Power Law.”) He spent a lot of time making this point. “There is an ‘A List’ [of Weblogs]… and of course, the most important corollary: You’re not on it.”
But he also said that Weblogs, even those with only a few readers, are “more like friendship than like publishing.” They’re like dinner parties — not “publishing the world’s smallest magazine with the world’s smallest readership.”
The submersible designer Graham Hawkes gave my favorite presentation of the day. He compared past generations of underwater vehicles to hot air balloons, capable of maneuvering in very crude ways. The machines he’s building are more like aircraft — they can fly through the ocean. He calls them “winged submersibles.”
He told of performing a kind of underwater ballet with a giant ray, and swimming alongside porpoises. Hawkes said he builds his machines without much financial backing, in a garage. He also said he was looking for $5-10 million in funding to build a craft capable of going to the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of earth’s oceans — and if you fund him, he’ll take you along for the ride. (I should mention here that AOL founder Steve Case was in the audience; I suspected that his Visa card probably could handle that kind of sum.)
Just before Hawkes, Constance Adams talked about new ideas in space architecture — designing habitats for space travelers. She showed some incredible pictures, too — one from the Sojourner mission of a sunset seen from Mars.
Some other conference highlights: Golan Levin playing some video from a symphony of cell phone rings that he wrote and performed. Urban design theorist James Kunstler ranting about why we’ve created so many bad places — “asteroid belts of architectural garbage” was one phrase he used. He suggested that we might want to “downscale and rescale everything in America,” live closer together, grow our food closer to where we live — or keep using our cars for everything and keep building much of our foreign policy around oil. Aubrey de Grey from the University of Cambridge proposed a “war on aging.” He said there’s “too much apathy about aging.”
Sunday morning now — and instead of plowing through a newspaper or lingering over brunch, we’re all in the Opera House listening to Sally Stansfield of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation talk about what we can do to improve global public health. Buddhist former E-Trade executive Scott Hunt on peace-making: “Kindness is alive and well, and we have good reason to be hopeful about the future.”
This is the rare technology conference that concerns itself not with getting more startups funded, or pushing products into the market, or changing consumer habits — but how we can use our impulse for creativity to make the world better.