Convergence 08 Wrap-Up
Well, it was a great couple of days.
Our second edition of FastForward Radio presented live at the unconference was even bigger than the first one. I think we had more guests on FFR over those two days than we had had over the previous six months. And what a lineup! Our thanks to all who took part.
George Dvorsky (once again) provides a good recap of the final panel on longevity. I think there are a lot of tremendous developments on the horizon in this field, but the importance of eating right and getting exercise can never be overstated. Not all that cutting edge, perhaps, but perfectly doable.
PJ hosted a terrific session on the importance of empathy, as well recounted by you-know-who (maybe we should just start thinking of The Speculist as a kind of "staging blog" for Sentient Developments.) Some really interesting discussion ensued. I deliberately set my own talk up as a sort of part two of PJ's session, hoping to leverage some of her thoughts on tribalism and fear of the Other in talking about potential audiences.
While my intended topic was a discussion of different outreach channels to a mainstream audience -- and whether people generally thought making such an outreach is a good idea -- I sought to use a little misdirection by giving the session a somewhat provocative title: "Winning the Meme Wars."
I'm very glad that I used that title, although I spent at least half of the time trying to referee discussions about whether memes actually exist and whether Nazi Germany provides a good example of meme warfare in action. (Even after admitting -- let's face it, insisting -- that "meme warfare" wasn't the intended topic!) That was all worth it, though, because of the fascinating perspectives that emerged. And I'm not sure that they would have emerged in response to a less stridently phrased question.
I opened up by asking whether the fact that we're planning to completely transform the world doesn't require us to provide some kind of notice to the people who, you know, live in the current world. In response, I had members of the group tell me...
...that we have no particular obligation to the general public; that there are always leaders and followers in times of change and that it falls on us to be the leaders.
...that the general public is a potential threat to what we're trying to do and that we need to "disarm" them.
...that, after all, the average IQ of the participants at Convergence 08 is a couple or three standard deviations higher than that of the public at large.
A few members of the group objected to this line of reasoning pretty vociferously, but they were apparently in the minority, and the whole atmosphere was a little too collegial for anyone to let loose with a "Hey, knock it off with the mad scientist stuff! We don't want any part of your creepy megalomaniacal ravings!" -- although I did hear a few objections to that effect as asides after the fact.
But honestly, I don't think that megalomania is the issue*. I just think this is PJ's tribalism and lack of empathy in action, and it's really just a kind of preemptive defensive posturing. We're mostly geeks, after all, and by and large we learned early on that there's rarely any point bothering with most of the other kids -- they don't "get" us and they can be pretty mean when they want to. And there's no way of saying it that doesn't sound conceited, but we know it's true: we're smarter than they are. A lot smarter. And one of these days, we'll find a way to settle the score.
So, yeah, I think it would be healthy if we found a way past all this schoolyard trauma. It may be true that -- as the great and wise Gilbert said -- none of us will ever really be free until nerd persecution ends, but what if the persecution is already over? The schoolyard was a long time ago, and in today's world geeks really are powerful. We've got the great ideas; we've got the plan for transforming the world. Besides, it's no longer a question of reaching out to a mainstream audience. Geek culture is becoming mainstream (it's the geekification of culture, to use another one of PJ's favorite terms.) The way I see it, geeks have to act as role models in this new emerging society. Or, if you will, they are the new heroes.
The thing is, heroes really oughtn't to sneer at (or be intimidated by) the people they're helping. It's unseemly. It's unheroic. I think we can do a lot better.
* Well, okay, there is the one dude who always wants to talk to me about his plan for an army of robotic Supermen. (I believe I posted a video of him talking about that at the Singularity Summit last year.) Anyhow I think he's kidding. I mean, he's most likely kidding...right?