I rather enjoyed the first day of LIFT. To be honest, I’m not the “conference going” type — memories of my erstwhile university days, jailed in large rooms with others listening to someone authoritative talk authoritatively, still haunt me. But Laurent and his fellow LIFTers have created a rather more interesting collection of speakers than usual — not the regular Web 2.0 / AJAX / Ruby on Rails crowd — and I found almost every session at least a little interesting. And some very much so.
The day began with a couple of scene-setting talks: Bruno Giussani and David Galipeau each gave variations on the “everything is different now” speech. Neither hit me over the head, but then again my head was still on Atlantic Standard Time, 5 hours behind the rest of the crowd.
Things started to get interesting at Jean-Luc Raymond’s talk on “Bridging the digital divide.” Jean-Luc works in France and elsewhere on projects designed to bring access to the network (“access” in the large sense: hardware, software, training, situation) to those who would otherwise lack it. He obviously knows his stuff, has real world experiences, and his talk was refreshingly free of “everything is different now” and grounded in “here’s what the real challenges are.”
My favourite bit of Jean-Luc’s talk was when he described USB memory keys, worn around the neck by people with little else to their name, as a “kind of house on themselves.” He also spoke of one’s “responsibility, as a citizen, to help [everyone] have their own place on the web.”
Next was Paul Oberson, perhaps the highlight of my conference day. Paul spoke on “Technology uses in the humanitarian world: the Polycrate’s syndrome” and, more effectively than anyone else I’ve come across, visually told the story of how decentralized ubiquitous networks can change everything about power relationships. Beginning with the tale of Polycrate, he diagramed, in picture and metaphor, the transition from a world where all relationships (government to person, NGO to person, etc.) are mediated to one where networks allow direct linkages. Paul is an excellent storyteller, and his slides provided a rare example of PowerPoint that enhanced rather than distracted (he’s promised to put them online, and I will point to them when he does).
I also appreciated that the irony of a rather traditional one-to-many conference format playing host to a discussion of how power relationships have changed everything was not lost on Paul.
Just before lunch were two quick presentations, one from the Amnesty International web team, and another from Matteo Penzo. Matteo spoke about Flash Voice, a Macromedia Flash-based system for wrapping an accessibility layer around everyday web content. Although he didn’t demo it, it sounds like an interesting use of Flash, and I will watch for it.
At lunch I renewed acquaintance with Henriette Weber Andersen from Copenhagen. Henriette and I met (sort of) at reboot and today was my first chance to have a real conversation with her. She’s working on some interesting projects besides Can I Crash?, all of which seem to surround community building, blogging, and social technology. She’s also the spark behind the recent spate of blogger/geek dinners in Copenhagen, and I promised to try and attend one next time I’m there.
After lunch came Cory Doctorow, who gave a variation on the same “why DRM is bad for business” talk I saw him give at reboot. Cory is a compelling speaker, and his ideas bear listening to over and over, so I didn’t mind the repeat performance; if you’ve never heard him speak, you might consider going out of your way to do so.
Following Cory was author Bruce Sterling, a last-minute addition to the programme. He gave a rambling metaphor-laden stream of consciousness talk called “Spimes and the future of artifacts” that was either brilliant or just inane, and more likely a healthy combination of the two. It was actually rather pleasant to hear from someone so ungrounded for a change.
Before the large group broke up into smaller sessions again, there was a panel discussion titled “Women and/in technology,” that was frustratingly short: just as things started to get interesting, time was called and we had to proceed. The panel, which grew out of Laurent’s frustration trying to find women to come to speak at LIFT, could have continued in some interesting directions had there been more time.
The day ended with a trio of more technical presentations: Marc Besson provided a well-crafted rundown on the state of identity management, Aymeric Sallin managed to completely confuse me about nanotechnology (I got the “it’s about really really small stuff” thing, but almost everything else was lost on me) and Stefana Broadben from the local Swiss telco, gave an interesting overview of the different roles that email, VOIP, landline, mobile, IM and other conversational technologies play in the day to day lives of a selection of regular everyday Swiss subjects.
By the end of the day I’d come to realize that I might actually be a “conference going” type — not particularly because the revelations delivered from the podia will change my life, but rather because the weird sort of suspended animation my brain enters in a conference room, pushed and prodded around as it is by a barrage of interesting and seemingly random ideas, makes for a very interesting creativity trance, the kind of trance that helps me dream of ways that I might change my life — or better those of other around me — on my own. Might sound lofty, but, oddly, it’s true.