ChangeCamp organizer Mark Kuznicki about to ask mesh keynote speaker Mayor David Miller a question. Photo by Andrew Louis.
Mesh, as “Canada’s web conference,” is naturally tricked out with tech goodies—Microsoft made an appearance with the new Surface, for example. You’ll find podcasts and video streaming and Twitter feeds for the two-day conference, so that even if you didn’t attend you’d still have a good idea of what went on. Through live-blogs and Twitter, this year’s talks and panels were boiled down into a jambalaya of Coles Notes, quips, and talking points. With as many as four sessions going on simultaneously, participants could use the tech to catch up on the ones they missed. (We got into the fun by live-tweeting mesh, which you can check out here.) Mesh, started only in 2006, often catches the zeitgeist of the web scene, as one person noted. This year it became very clear that whether you Twitter or Facebook or instant message or blog, ich bin ein Computerfreak.
The best example of the techie non-technie was keynote of the keynotes Mayor David Miller. The mayor spoke passionately about the city, discussing opening up the government data through www.toronto.ca/open and giving a shout out to the Change Engine project that came out of ChangeCamp, while coyly noting he was still learning how to make a TinyURL. (FYI, move to tr.im.) There was never really any risk in speaking to the tech crowd. The mayor has heaps of goodwill since he went on Twitter. Questions on Toronto Tech Week and the dollar surcharge for paying parking tickets online had the feel of a chummy ribbing. (It helped that either the mayor or aide Ryan Merkley did their research, as the audience ate up the small jabs at the telcos.) The audience asked if the mayor would return to mesh 2010 with the results of everything he presented, and he gladly agreed. It’s not too far-fetched to say the re-election campaign has already started.
“This is how much the tech crowd loves me.” Photo of Mayor David Miller by Andrew Louis.
As a writer, you realize that people will read your work, judge it, and have some perception of you. It’s something you have to accept. Slowly, this weird feeling is now being shared with the public. As any veteran of Twitter realizes, there is at some point a disconcertion regarding authenticity. Hundreds of people are reading what you write (or tweet). Would you still write the same things if only twenty people were following?
One change from last year’s conference is that Twitter has exploded, and the sheer volume of people on it has changed the way people use it to interact. Whereas last year Twitter felt like a backchannel, this year, the #mesh09 hashtag petrified people into an arch primness. People, knowing how many eyes would be on them, began to subvert their individuality to fulfill some abstract notion of properness. Check out the #mesh09 stream: it’s all congratulations and regurgitations. It’s not that mesh doesn’t deserve the praise or that the speakers didn’t have good points worth repeating. However, instead of capturing the kinetic, creative environment that mesh forms at its best, the #mesh09 channel became the equivalent of a high school yearbook, full of “Have a great summers!”
This may be the challenge for mesh, then. For all the talk of authenticity and openness that social tools allow, they also can create a kind of Big Brother atmosphere, where every detail is recorded and takes something away. Mesh is not near that point yet, but it’s a concern. As more and more conferences and camps are chronicled so closely, who will want to be a dissenting voice when there is a chorus of cheers? Will it become that moderate opinions will stay quiet while only the loud jeerers and cheerers take over? If so, how does a community grow if people are afraid of their constructive criticism being misconstrued?
Two mesh-ers play with the Microsoft Surface. Photo by Rannie Turingan.
The mesh crew are already moving to break this potential bubble. Talks of moving mesh up to coincide with North By Northeast, in a sense paralleling South by Southwest’s interactive conference, could draw in new faces that could prevent an echo chamber. Next year, it would also be interesting to hear from panels and speakers more willing to discuss failures and how they overcame them or current issues they’re still dealing with. We’d also love a panel on diversity and the tech community. As tech becomes more social and more representative of the human experience, mesh will have a great opportunity to explore deeper into how we share, connect, and inspire each other.