What You Missed at PopTech, Day One

Posted by Peter Smith

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Whether it’s thinking wrong or how not to change the world, this year’s PopTech Conference addressed the failures, accidents, noise, glitches, mistakes, and breakthroughs. It’s worth noting that the failure theme applied to the conference's wireless network, which has been spotty. But it’s almost like the organizers did that intentionally, focusing the best moments of this tech conference on meeting other attendees and speakers face-to-face around Camden, Maine. Here are a couple of highlights from Thursday’s inspiring set of speakers and performers:

  • Dan Ariely opened PopTech 2010 by discussing adaptation, using the attractiveness rating system “Hot or Not” to demonstrate how we share an ideal about beauty but generally settle for partners at the same level of attractiveness.
     
  • Kathryn Schulz told the audience that being certain about something doesn't always mean that we're being accurate. She later admitted that she had left out her favorite two minutes of the speech.
     
  • Kevin Starr questioned the value of world-changing and showed what he considers to be three, well-intentioned, but failed, projects—LifeStraw, One Laptop Per Child, and Playpumps.
     
  • Reggie Watts performed an amazing set. If you've never checked him out, watch his hilarious performance.
     
  • Jad Abumrad, the host of WNYC’s Radiolab, clearly delighted himself in playing the sound of an Epson printer failing as part of his engaging exploration into how the music of failure might resemble the sounds of neurons firing—the noisy music of life.
     
  • Alan Rabinowitz received the day’s only standing ovation for his inspiring story about going from a stuttering outsider in New York to becoming the founder of a nationwide big cats conservation nonprofit, Pathera.
     
  • David de Rothschild, the charismatic British adventurer, said the inspiration for his Plastiki adventure came from among other things, Chris Jordon’s photographs of plastic found inside albatrosses and said that curiosity was behind his adventure to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
     
  • Larry Smith shared the history behind Smith magazine’s six-word memoir project and its many spinoff projects. And you can contribute six-word stories about accidents, failures, and breakthroughs here.

The conference continues today. More highlights can be found on the PopTech blog. Follow the conversation on twitter at #poptech or livestream it here.

Photograph of Jad Abumrad by Flickr user (cc) kk