The new conference
Conferences for multi-taskers aiming on big and small topics alike
New, deep thinking is booming in a city tired of chatter. But are the “new conferences” here to stay?
In 2010 we saw the debut of the Boring Festival, described by the Independent newspaper as “gathering of up to 25 experts on some of the more obscure areas of human endeavour”. It was repeated in 2011 and sold out quickly. The Wall Street Journal reported the opening lines:
“"Brace yourself for five piping-hot minutes of inertia," said William Barrett. Then he began reciting the names of every single one of 415 colors listed in a paint catalog: damson dream, dauphin, dayroom yellow, dead salmon…and on and on and on.”
New conferences, small topics
It was brought together as a response to the cancellation of the Interesting festival, run by Russell Davies. Although named Interesting, in fact many of the events taking place here are mildly boring - they’re tech focused, geeky, and very mid-thirties. In fact, they feel rather shallow.
New conferences, big topics
In contrast, the School of life aims to take a deeper, more philosophical view of life, guided by academics, writers and philosophers. An example session: “How to find a job you love. Is the nine-to-five a grey backdrop to your creative, stimulating, enjoyable life outside of the office? The 'working you' can be reconciled with the 'real you'.”
Many are focused on psychotherapy, depression, creativity or conversation. These are the big conversations that we all ought to be having and that are likely to make the world a better place.
Also along these erudite lines - the Lost Lectures - “a unique new series of events where incredible speakers give enchanting talks from secret locations”. These are pop-up lectures, covering big areas like cosmology or the nature of science.
Finally, The Story, a one-day conference about stories and story-telling, which took place in February. This is “a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible. We’re hoping to have stories that are written, spoken, played, described, enacted, whispered, projected, orchestrated, performed, printed – whatever form stories come in, we hope to have them here.”
All these Unconferences have a few things in common. First, they’re not for professionals. This mirrors a pattern in society as people move towards being multi-taskers, more interested and excited by what is going on outside of work.
Second, these events capitalise on having people in a room, something that being in a city the size of London makes easier. These new conferences put the onus on the audience to collaborate, take part and share new ideas.
So will we still have these conferences in a few years? Whether they’re boring or interesting, the chances are good.
Russell Davies on flickr creative commons