Sunday, October 18, 2009

'The Future Of Collaboration', and Cory Doctorow in Brighton

A final post to end what has been rather a long day. After a morning and afternoon spent at BELTE (the inaugural Brighton English Language Training Event), where I picked up all sorts of tips, tricks and connections that should be able to help with my teaching, I ambled down from the train station to the seafront, only to be confronted by the glorious vision of the sunset over the West Pier pictured above

Renowned net evangelist and author Cory Doctorow (who is exactly one month older than me, according to his Wikipedia entry) was in town for a panel discussion at The Brighton Salon, with Nico MacDonald and Michael Bull. The event was eagerly awaited by certain sections of the Brighton geekerati and I'd been looking forward to it for a while.

Macdonald, Bull, Robert Clowes (Salon chairman) and Doctorow at the Thistle Hotel

Doctorow spoke first to kick off the panel, describing how the internet was not just the world's greatest copy machine, but also its best collaboration machine, and the importance of keeping the copyright industries from 'wiretapping us'. He delivers at quite a pace - fast enough that some in the audience less up on the terminology of our networked times struggled with and which I wasn't able to take notes fast enough either - but the assembled crowd lapped it up.

Bull went on to talk about the challenges of communicating with people that aren't sitting next to you and the contradictions of increasing connectivity leading to greater isolation. Macdonald wrapped up with waxing lyrical about 'the profundity of open source' and how we create and deliver the work that we do better than ever (summed up as 'I share, therefore I am'), but opined that open source culture doesn't tend to create new forms and a concern that the 'hive mind' could reduce innovation. Panel discussions and questions from the audience followed.

Doctorow checks the event's tweet stream

Naturally, things got heated at some points, with firm rebuttals of a few of the issues raised. Doctorow denied that open source culture has reduced innovation, stating also that we are living 'in a period of permanent revolution'. Macdonald claimed that we are not living in as revolutionary times as the move from the land to the cities, rebutted by Doctorow with 'Change today is radically faster than agrarian to industrial change.' A rather intriguing feature of the discussion was that both speakers were monitoring the tweet streams of the event (hashtag: #bssharing) and responding to tweets from the audience in addition to their panel contributions. Some serious multitasking.

There were a few other choice quotes from the night that I tweeted from the audience, including
'We can combine the talents of humanity for the first time' and 'The future's going to be weirder than we can now predict.'

All in all, plenty of thought-provoking material (even if there were no ideas that were particularly new to me) and a most engaging evening. One thing's pretty much for sure - whatever the future's going to look like, we can be pretty damned certain that it's going to look very very different from how we might imagine or predict it now, and weirdness as the order of the day would be most likely!

(update: for a well-written and more extensive report on the evening, visit

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