Unconferences, Democracy and Change

Michael Politics, Social Media 1 Comment

The number of unconferences (and references to) seems to be growing, which is great. However, in several articles I’ve read, people are refering to it as a new phenomenon, which is far from the case.

I took place in my first “unconference” in 1996, back when these things were called Open Space.  Open Space or Unconference – the experience is a truly inspiring one.

Let me put it this way:

Imagine sitting in a packed lecture hall. You are completely comfortably in your anonymity, just one of several hundred other students who are much more interested in last night’s pub adventure than what the prof is talking about. But then he defies the odds and manages to finger YOU out from the huge crowded hall.  In a second your pulse races, while you try to come up with an answer or at least an opinion that won’t look stupid. Everyone is listening.

What an unconference does is strip out the organizers, the speakers, the podium, the hall, the agenda – in fact the whole implicit safety net of any large group meeting process. You can’t sit at the back of the hall, safe in large numbers. Now the onus is upon you to suggest topics, join meetings, speak up if you want to, or otherwise exercise the “law of two feet”. Suddenly you are very awake, with the clarity that comes from being put on the spot, knowing that your voice is going to be heard.

By stripping out the process, the spotlight falls upon the participants. And while I could get all overly preachy and idealistic and start sprouting notions about the dawn of democracy and how technology – specifically social media – is putting a voice back in the hands of voters, I think we all recognize that we are still on the cusp of this transformation.

And while I could get all overly preachy and idealistic and start sprouting notions about the dawn of democracy and how technology – specifically social media – is putting a voice back in the hands of voters, I think we all recognize that we are still on the cusp of this transformation.

But there are undoubtedly huge shifts underway that are redefining the way information and ideas are spread, how content is created, how commerce is enacted.

I was reading today about Darwin’s 200th anniversary, and the brou-ha he created that still persists. One idea in particular from “The 10,000 Year Explosion” (referenced by Margaret Wente)  struck me. The authors theorize that the growth in agricultural societies and subsequent population boom gave rise to more rapid genetic changes. 

If, as they say “Fast change causes rapid evolution,”  then certainly humanity may be in for some major shifts in the next couple of thousand years (relatively short time frame). But it also strikes me that the dissemination of information is rising much faster, that this access to ideas could speed up the process of technological change just like genetics.

As an example, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the case where someone comes up with the answers to solve business problems immediately, right from their browser – much much faster than what was possible only 10 years ago.

If the changes that we have witnessed over the past couple of decades continue or are accelerated, what is the impact to society? Does evolution speed up?

MichaelUnconferences, Democracy and Change

Comments 1

  1. Chaim Wizah

    So – what are we talking about here, a quadruple Moore's Law? While I can see ideas spreading faster, this won't affect tech change in the West, but it may have amazing impacts in the Third World and other places that can now access this info.

    So I suppose if you're looking at the whole of the world, things may indeed progress faster.

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