A bit more (on) interesting

The Interesting Agenda

Just a few more thoughts on yesterday’s Interesting 2008.

The more I think back to it, the more it feels as if there was a bit of a weird ‘otherness’ to the day. Almost like a kind of mass hallucination or mass hypnosis.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Russell Davies is running some sort of weird CIA sponsored Moonies alternative, or that I got home to find my pants on backwards.

It’s just that from the very offset, an audience that would – I’m sure – normally be extremely cynical, allowed the speakers to go about their sometimes weird and abstract business unimpeded (and indeed applauded).

Parts of it certainly were hypnotic, like this amazing demonstration of a zoetrope using an old technics turntable and a TV camera:

interesting zoetrope

(and here).

One of the morning presenters came close to a weird sort of folklore story telling with a discussion of ancient civilization that had different laws of physics that had been infected with thinking from our world (like a weird ancient version of Snowcrash). 

(An incarnation of that story can be found here:  http://www.upsideclown.com/2003_12_04.shtml). 

There was the bizarre mix of fact and fiction which reviewed America’s visions of the future and space travel from the 50s – complete with mind-bending music reminiscent of that weird bit in French connection. There was the actual mass meditation after lunch (with busking warm up). And then of course there was the recorder playing:

Interesting sponsored recorder playing

which, as I’ve said before, was made a little more bizarre by Guardian sponsorship of the recorders and the bloke from Last.fm conducting.

I guess what I’m saying is three fold.

1. There was a definite spiritual angle to the whole day – a looking for a broader meaning outside of what we do professionally. Is it right to call it spiritual if it’s not at all religious? Can we have some sort of abstract, secular, interestingness? (Given Conway Hall is a major humanist venue, that could be very appropriate).

2. Whilst most speakers were – rightly – very nervous to be speaking in front of such an audience (and often many million miles from their comfort zones), the audience themselves was more like being at a wedding than being at a normal conference (very forgiving, very positive and very engaged).

3. Like all spiritual events, I’m finding it very hard to explain it to people who weren’t there. Whilst the value of it is growing in my mind, my ability to vocalize why it was so good is deserting me.

Or perhaps it was just me!

Still a great day. And eminently… interesting throughout.

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A little bit (of) interesting

Today was interesting. It was Interesting 2008, the Russell Davies ‘unconference’; in its second year and continuing rude health. The underlying thought appears to be the same: the first step in being interesting is being interested. Accordingly a very large bunch (maybe 400) cogniscati gathered in an incredible (and extremely well buntinged) hall – Conway Hall in Red Lion Square – to hear some of the best presenters in the UK talk about their pet subjects.

If you were being satirical, you would say it was the world’s best people on branding, advertising, etc talking about their favourite colours, shoes, fashions, music or whatever. Of course, what it was actually about was people talking about things that were close to their own hearts, they thought would be interesting for 10 minutes (i.e. not their jobs) and where they’d found some interesting material.

We had Winston Churchill, Why horses are afraid of crisp packets, the extent to which we can really understand the second world war with only 60 years’ perspective, the relative density of World of Warcraft, the rise and fall of Patagonia, and why a lego fetish is a good thing.

I honestly don’t think there was a bad presenter all day. Although, this last bit – the selection of speakers – is really where Russell Davies showed his hand (despite very amusing and scene-setting opening- and closing- remarks).

Was it middle-class -bourgeoisie guardian-reading nonsense? Absolutely. At one point half the speakers joined together for a Guardaian sponsored recorder playing session.

Was it brilliant? Absolutely. A room in London was filled with some of the cleverest and most critical people of their generation, who allowed and understood their peers to do the most difficult presentation of their lives. We were a good audience – of course – but only for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, intense acts of bravery were conducted on stage as people with a lot to lose tried to be interesting to this dragons’ den.

Hats off to Russell, hats off to the speakers, and here’s to Interesting 2009. I’ll definitely try to be there. I’ve been racking my brain all day about what I’d talk about and I’m coming up blank. The best I’ve got is:

  • Untranslatable words / words that have never existed
  • Object orientated programming and what it can teach you about knowledge and YOUR life
  • How education works in other countries
  • How the WestWing (the TV show) changed the world
  • The Toyato Production Sytem, who nicked it and how it’s changed the world

Hopefully ee you there. And a pleasure to meet a whole bunch of you today, It’s been one of those days that makes it clear the new world isn’t a temporary one.

More: here and here