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ETech Goes Worldchanging
Alex Steffen, 5 Aug 08

ETech -- the excellent O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, where I spoke last year (video here, though not my finest talk, unfortunately, as I had an airplane flu) -- has released their call for proposals, and it kicks butt:

Living, Reinvented: The Technology of Abundance and Constraints

We live in two worlds: one filled with abundance and the other with constraints. Each has its own favorite—or essential to survival—inventions and directions. Each has been deeply affected by technology.

The abundant world has access to the Internet and other educational tools, to the latest advances in medicine, to culinary choices from around the globe, and up until recently, access to "plenty of" energy. This abundance can lead to waste since most everyday objects are easier and cheaper to replace than fix. But sometimes this excess can lead to creation—a reinvention of waste—as we see in the pages of Make magazine.

The constrained world has to make do with what's available. Why scrimp and sacrifice for a computer when most people have mobile phones with an SMS server that can do the job just fine? With limited food, water, fuel, medicine, it's the people and their ideas that are often the cheapest part of the equation. Their technology looks to collaboration and connection with fewer resources—almost the opposite of the industrialized world which seeks to make each individual as effective as possible.

What technologies cross the divide? How do the two interact and cross-pollinate?

This, of course, could hardly be a more Worldchanging set of topics.

And if you have a Worldchanging idea, you can join the fun. O'Reilly's call for proposals is here. If you've got one, I encourage you to put it forward.

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Glad to see O'Reilly take this tack for ETech, not just going for the low-hanging "green technology" fruit, but probing to uncover meaningful ways to apply technology to help us live within real constraints. Is "intropian" a word? Using technology to live within boundaries, not expand them infinitely?

Posted by: Scott Smith on 5 Aug 08

The O'Reilly Web2.0 Summit also has a change of focus this year:

"In the first four years of the Web 2.0 Summit, we've focused on our industry's challenges and opportunities, highlighting in particular the business models and leaders driving the Internet economy. But as we pondered the theme for this year, one clear signal has emerged: our conversation is no longer just about the Web. Now is the time to ask how the Web—its technologies, its values, and its culture—might be tapped to address the world's most pressing limits. Or put another way—and in the true spirit of the Internet entrepreneur—its most pressing opportunities.

As we convene the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, our world is fraught with problems that engineers might charitably classify as NP hard—from roiling financial markets to global warming, failing healthcare systems to intractable religious wars. In short, it seems as if many of our most complex systems are reaching their limits.

It strikes us that the Web might teach us new ways to address these limits. From harnessing collective intelligence to a bias toward open systems, the Web's greatest inventions are, at their core, social movements. To that end, we're expanding our program this year to include leaders in the fields of healthcare, genetics, finance, global business, and yes, even politics.

Increasingly, the leaders of the Internet economy are turning their attention to the world outside our industry. And conversely, the best minds of our generation are turning to the Web for solutions. At the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, we'll endeavor to bring these groups together."

See for more information. There is definitely a notable shift in focus at O'Reilly events. Hopefully we may see more from their other media channels such as books and websites.

Posted by: Paul Mackay on 5 Aug 08

Thanks for this little snippet. The conference title makes me want to do some research and make a submission.

Posted by: Carl nelson on 5 Aug 08



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