Curious


March 26th, 2010

(Rant alert)

So here’s a real curiosity.

On first glance this Wisdom 2.0 Conference looks like a great idea – exploring how we’ll use new technologies, and on the third day “a participant-directed unconference and networking day”. This from the conference blurb:

The question for most of us is not if we will use the technologies of our age, from cell phones to social media, the question ishow can we do so with mindfulness, meaning, and wisdom?

What about the other two days? Glad you asked. And this is why I think it’s curious, because the organisers have defaulted to the outmoded, and safe, approach of speakers and panels. “The first two days is a single-track format that includes talks, interviews, and panel discussions.”

So let me take a stab at what’s going on here. And to be fair, not just here, but just about everyone organising conferences these days are defaulting to the ‘tried and true’ approach of speakers, panels and Q & A. Here’s another example.

Well intentioned and safe. Maintaining the status quo and reinforcing existing power dynamics. And fearful of letting go of control. It’s all described here in another blurb from the conference web site:

While there will be some participant involvement and audience-engagement the first two days of panels, presentations, and interviews, we wanted to provide time for people to explore with others at the conference issues of importance to them.

Of the several hundred people there, for example, it could be that a handful are particularly interested in bringing mindfulness programs into business, others may be drawn to use social media to share wisdom, still others may be focused on creating new technologies that create a better world. There could be a broad range of interests.

While the first two days are somewhat “organized” the vision of the unconference is to allow people to follow their own particular interests, and engage with others around them. Of course, you do not have to come with any one interest in mind; you could simply listen, learn, and participate as you choose. The unconference, however, allows for subjects discussed the first two days, and others you may like, to be explored together in small groups.

Just as the conference is very much “an experiment,” the unconference day is as well. And like anything, much will depend on the quality of attention and presence each of us brings to it.

So participants during the first two days need to be directed. Have to listen to what others think and be ‘prepared’ for the unconference day. As I said before, safe, and maybe a bit patronising. Another example of a great conference idea hamstrung by convention.

I’d like to also see some mindfulness, meaning and wisdom in the design of conferences too.

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