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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poptech Conference

Forgive me for being somewhat vague here. My head is spinning. After a week at the Poptech Conference in Camden Maine, I feel as if it was lovingly unzipped and a stunning amount of intensely powerful knowledge was poured in. I’m trying to adjust and process it all.

Poptech is one of those unique conference which feels more like summer camp than work, more like a familial gathering and sharing of experiences than a lecture series of experts. And yet another awesome thing about the experience was that while the 60 or so speakers are all supremely expert and impactful in their fields the audience and volunteers like myself, had stories and work just as fascinating. There was no hierarchy, this is probably aided by the chill Maine beauty and the smart experience design by the Poptech folks. I highly recommend attending next year if you are able (tickets are a bit pricey and sell out fast.)

The Poptech tagline is World Changing People, Projects and Ideas, and as you would guess these range through all fields, from dance and amazing musicians all the way across to the Founder of the Human Genome Project. There were culture altering authors, behavioral economists looking at our current moment, a cartoonist entrepreneur designing for the under explored Muslim market, a young man who was on the Apartheid Peace and Reconciliation Committee. Design was a big overlay, across fields, MIT was liberally represented as well as RISD. I thoroughly enjoyed Industrial Designer, Marije Vogelzang who blazed her own path in the field, information architect Nicholas Felton who turned his pet project into a career, as well as Poptech Fellows Josh Nesbit and Hayat Sindi whose well established start ups are changing lives in developing countries. The videos from these presentations will all soon be on the web at and I highly recommend checking as many out as you can, there really is something for everyone, and take the time to listen to presentations outside your field, as one presenter pointed out, it is often people outside the field who can see the solutions most clearly (check out collaboration website

And although there are ten thousand takeaways which I will be processing for ages there was one key one that was immediately evident. The presenters, who were from around the world, followed whatever it was that fascinated, no matter how esoteric the content, they pursued it without ever asking permission and thus became the expert in their self created field, which because of their intense dedication suddenly became immensely relevant and important to us all. Some of my favorite presenters:

  • Michael Wesch digital anthropologist studying the social impact of YouTube (

  • Naif Al-Mutawa creator of «The 99», the popular Islamic-themed comic series (

  • Kurt Andersen best-selling author, cultural critic and host of Studio360 (

  • Dan Ariely behavioral economist and bestselling author of “Predictably Irrational”

  • Jonah Lehrer author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist (

  • Kyna Leski architect and design educator, RISD

  • Marije Vogelzang designer of eating

  • Luis von Ahn computer scientist, and researcher on “human computation” (

  • Nicholas Felton designer and personal informatician (

  • Paul van Zyl transitional justice expert and former Exec. Director of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee (

PopTech 2009 Social Innovation Fellows from PopTech on Vimeo.

Poptech Fellows: Social Entrepreneurship
Josh Nesbit – FrontlineSMS:Medic
Hayat Sindi – Diagnostics For All

Julianne Gauron

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