Creativity Inverged: InVerge & Cre8Con 2008

Experiencing three days of purposefully and accidentally thought-provoking speakers at Portland’s recent Inverge and Cre8Con conferences leaves me feeling, well, thoughtful and provoked. Some of the presentations were predictable, some were compelling, but nearly all of them generated further reflection on what is and what will be.

Engagement

Engagement was the theme I drew from the wide variety of media and marketing professionals and researchers at Inverge. From the giddy meditations on the media engagement that is from presenters like Widen+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson, Vidoop/OpenID’s Scott Kveton, raven.me’s Raven Zachary, and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, to the descriptions of what media engagement is beginning to become from USC ICT’s William Swartout‘s descriptions of the building blocks of holodeck technologies and Vortex/Harmony Channel’s Ed Lantz‘s tour of immersive media environments. Then the good news/bad news of engagement brought to us by MIT’s Joshua Green, who got us thinking about the value the agents formerly known as “consumers” bring to brands and products and what they should get for their work, and Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, who openly described Disney’s very clear and strategic systems to engage children as “desiring machines.” I hand it to Disney for understanding how to architect experiences like the techno-charm bracelets that talk to each other and jack in to Tinkerbell’s Pixie Hollow website…but thankfully, Disney’s poor art direction and music selection may keep them from owning the entire brains and allowances of every child on earth.

Creativity

Despite drawing on only local Oregon talent, Cre8Con certainly delivered a day-load of eye-poppingly great work and thoughts on how to make it, including Michael Curry‘s amazing puppetry, damali ayo of Crow Clothing’s must-have clothing and laudable business practices, and Brian Van’t Hul of LAIKA’s tantalizing previews of the upcoming Coraline animated feature.

When it came to creative practices, I was left waffling between the incredible focus required to produce Jay Meschter of Nike’s nearly-invisible shoes and Adam Gallardo of Dark Horse Comic’s advice to absorb as much as you can from the widest variety of sources. I’m left feeling like both practices fuel my creative engine.

On Your Feet ‘s closing 10-min summary of the entire Cre8Con conference should be required at any and all conferences of any type from now on for both laughs and material retention. And finally, let’s not forget that neither of these worthy events would’ve happened without the dedication of Steve Gehlen and a host of other hardy volunteers.

Inverge & Cre8Con

For anyone engaged in the creative practices that are generating the continuing convergence of interactive media, technology and culture, Portland, Oregon will come alive next week with the convergence of both the second annual Inverge 2008 Thu-Fri 4-5 Sep at the Gerding Theater and Cre8Con, Sat 6 Sep at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, not to mention the concurrent MusicFestNW, the Time-Based Art Festival and the only slightly more regular First Thursday.

Last year’s inaugural Inverge event sparked a lot of thinking that crossed all the right boundaries and provided the opportunity to connect with thought leaders from a wide variety of disciplines. This year promises to be even better, with speakers including MIT’s Joshua Green, Weiden+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson and Jelly Helm, Disney’s Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, Nike’s Jay Meschter and Michael Tchao, as well as Oregon luminaries, Scott Kveton from Vidoop, Raven Zachary from Raven.me and Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist, designer Damali Ayo, Adam Gallardo from Dark Horse Comics and many more. Check out all the speakers at Inverge and Cre8Con.

I’ll be there, will you?

Tweeting My Horn

Purely by accident, I happened to run into Rick Turoczy (@turoczy) of Silicon Florist fame on the day Steve Woodward (@oregoniansteve), the Oregonian reporter, was interviewing Rick about Twitter.

Several of us Portland tweeters ended up helping Rick talk twitter, including the indefatigable Bram Pitoyo (@brampitoyo) and connectrix Katherine Gray (@ThisKat). Not sure we did much more than evangelize twitter, but I tried to spread the meme about twitter being a “prosthetic limb for social networking.”

Read the whole Oregonian article “@everyone :-) twitter is tweeter” and check out the video special right here.

Educational Futures

I just attended the first meeting of a parent/teacher/student group at my daughter’s public, science/math/technology magnet school—Winterhaven. The group was formed to deal with a mandate from Portland Public Schools to grow the school’s student body, and then necessarily move, or renovate, because the school’s current building can only serve about 360 students.

Now that I have school-age kids, the whole question of public education is taking on a new relevance for me. My own educational background included being “home schooled” for grades 1-6 thanks to my parents’ realization that our local Colorado public schools were inadequate, and attending Open Living, a unique public alternative school in grades 7-12. Based on my own “alternative” experience, I’m a big believer in the necessity of quality, public education for all to support democracy and civil society.

A large part of the discussion started by PPS’s mandate to Winterhaven has been focused on that particular school, and/or what building it should be located in.

I find my thoughts moving away from these immediate concerns to what it will take to make public education in Portland (or elsewhere) sufficiently vibrant to continue to attract students like my daughters and at the same time serve the largest possible population.

So far, I find PPS’s focus on standardizing school profiles and sizes to be at odds with my knowledge that it is in fact options and alternatives that attract me to public education in Portland. I just don’t buy the idea that our desire for educational equity will be best served by making all schools the same. I believe that drive will lead all schools to the lowest common denominator, and soon drive the middle class away from public education even more dramatically than it already is.

Once the middle class gives up on public schools, I fear a downward spiral where fewer resources generate increasingly poor educational opportunities. I don’t think such a situation will be good for anyone, least of all the less advantaged in whose name school standardization is adopted.

A better path will be to support and celebrate diversity, not just in our public student body, but in the schools themselves. One school might make its mark as a vibrant neighborhood school; another might be an arts magnet. Each should have it’s own identity.

The job of  PPS Superintendent Phillips and the School Board should be to support school diversity, not standardize. If they don’t think there are enough resources to support school diversity now, wait until the middle class pulls out of public education entirely and see how many resources are left.

Given the worthy people around the table with me in this Winterhaven conversation, I have faith that we can produce good recommendations. And in an ideal world, PPS will have the vision and resources to make some of them happen.