Future of technology lies in untapped collaborative energy

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Driving to Baltimore last Wednesday, phrases would pop into my head. Fragments of this article, of songs and conference papers and stories not yet written. I realized, as I always realize in the course of a real drive and then promptly forget, that it is during these times that the words flow best. This is, of course, tragic, as I can’t write them down while slaloming the Pennsylvania hills.

This past weekend, Golan Levin and the Studio for Creative Inquiry hosted Mobile Art && Code, a gathering of digerati and hackers, mobile phone programming gurus and interactive artists. Saturday’s agenda was full of talks from sunrise to sunset.

But these were not lectures intended to educate the room on a chosen topic. This wasn’t a classically academic conference, but rather a gathering of like minds talking about a future that is already here. There is something inspiring about sitting among a group of people coming from diverse backgrounds, educations, and countries discussing the goals for a shared, better future.

A future with more art and more code. A time when both your niece and grandmother are contributing to an open ecosystem. The techno-optimists were seizing the day and pulling the rest of us along with them.

One “designer, technologist, and researcher,” Julian Bleecker, channeled another, R. Buckminster Fuller, to deal with getting us to the future: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” This is the work of many in attendance: to create tools, programming languages, and workshops that put programming, hacking, and a belief in one’s own ability to create something new into hands worldwide.

There isn’t anything related to art or code that inspired my thoughts. I wasn’t in a room full of people I adored. I hadn’t even bothered with any sort of technical solution to catch the fragments of what could be art. I just leave them behind like I do the countryside and I keep driving.

Marc Davis, a founding partner of Invention Arts, and once the chief scientist and vice president of early stage products for Yahoo! Mobile, described an understanding of attention through context. When tourists are standing around an object, a landmark or building, for example, they point their cameras at it and shoot. Their attention is drawn in exactly the pattern one would expect. While Marc spoke, the room’s attention was drawn to him in that same way.

And what is new is that everyone in the room is participating. Facebook status updates and camera phone photos are making content creators out of all of us. The new model is already coming; parts of it are here.

For the people who gathered at Carnegie Mellon last weekend, their combined efforts are a piece of the record they are making. They put a huge and concentrated amount of attention toward empowering every person who is ready to accept their techno-centric future.

There will be stereotypes to fight. Coding is still reserved for dorks, nerds, scientists, and hackers. But while those cultural reservations are real today, they are malleable. If the force fighting them is strong enough, they won’t be here tomorrow.

If I think about driving, it’s all a blur. My attention moves from place to place, and the change brings a cycling of thoughts that flicker out as soon as they occur. It brings a different inspiration that I haven’t yet harnessed — an untapped energy.

Maybe I am considering, for just an instant, Carnegie Mellon, in theory where some of the most creative artists and most brilliant hackers reside, and all of the potential that resides within — those who are not yet building code and are not yet designing something new. What an exciting thought — that they could reach out, with code or art, and begin creating some new marvel for our collective attention to focus on.

Or maybe I am thinking of something else, some four beat couplet, as I drive away, off into the dark.