There is something wonderfully anachronistic about 'Stream' -- WPP's "un-conference" that celebrates the collisions and collusion's between all things digital and creative -- namely, that a three day gathering dedicated to technology and its voracious capacity to foster new business opportunities and value creation across the world's economies is predicated on the distinctly traditional, old world, timeless belief that there is no substitute for face-to-face human interaction.
The 2014 edition brought together 350 hungry minds to hang out, pool ideas and shoot the breeze (of which there was rather a lot due to an unseasonal and rather persistent Aegean storm). This is the same principle behind the "Pow Wow" of North America and equivalent assemblies amongst ancient and indigenous peoples. The fact that dancing, cooking and eating, healing and even hunting were crucial elements of the Pow Wow simply makes the analogy even more apposite.
My point is that in an era when digital is digitALL and a conference (even an un-one) is curated by a creative industries conglomerate for creatively technological and technologically creative citizens -- be they employees of WPP, their clients or their friends -- it is pleasantly unfuturistic to find that the model used is based on the cornerstones of the analogue world: getting together in organic groups for discussions; entertaining each other and cooking for the benefit of the wider community.
Talking of discussion groups, these form the spine of the Stream experience and provide multifarious opportunities to engage in an exchange of ideas with fellow Streamers around specific topics led by those with a special interest in a particular subject. On Friday afternoon I attended a discussion about Burning Man -- another vivid example of the fundamental and enduring truth that, despite the mind-bending advances in technology and the application of digital innovations to almost every aspect of our daily lives, there is a deep-seated requirement within us to celebrate what it is to be human in ways that involve physical contact; proximity; vocal, facial and artistic expression channelling the unusual, the visceral, the disruptive and the sheer joyful.
The challenge discussed on this occasion was how an alternative free spirit like Burning Man could accommodate its runaway success, perhaps replicate itself around the world to meet demand, but still retain the essence that made it so successful in the first place. This is a conundrum for all small, perfectly-formed challenger-style 'brands' that find themselves part of the mainstream after flourishing and appealing to much larger audiences. Ultimately, Burning Man has been so successful because it provides a platform for people to escape from the shiny, contemporary world and retreat into the desert to enjoy more earthy pastimes -- at least that's my theory. I've never been...must do something about that.
I loved the sheer surprise of tapping into apparently random talking points you don't expect to come across -- like retired flight engineer Hagi Cohen's discussion about his theory as to what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 (gas from a previous volcanic eruption lingering in the upper atmosphere poisoned the crew and passengers through the air conditioning system).
It's an intense and refreshing way of indulging one's professional and personal interests. I have three daughters and work for a telco redefining itself as a connectivity and technology curation business so technology is my world. Stream allowed me to hear first-hand from a 16 year old YouTuber (Alexis G Zall) how she had created a following of half a million fans by dedicating herself to irreverent video content. I joined a fascinating debate about "The internet is NOT the answer." This was led by Andrew Keen, a writer and 'Silicon Valley antichrist', who is an articulate devil's advocate to the inexorable gush of positive sentiment about the internet and all who sail in her. As this was one of the best attended discussions of the entire event, it seems that there are many of us who share a more ambivalent view than perhaps we are always willing to admit. The conclusion of this brief encounter was that the influence of the internet has grown so rapidly that mankind has not been able to keep pace in terms of its ability to manage it safely and effectively - for the benefit of us all. Allowing the positive impacts and effects of the internet to prevail over the worrisome and pernicious (the "tyranny of transparency") is a matter of some urgency for our global society and for those responsible for its effective regulation.
The most wonderful thing about Stream has to be the fact that everyone who attends will have a unique experience based on which discussions they frequent, who they speak to and spend time with and what they eat and drink at Midnight Cooking Madness. Someone quoted Sony's redefined corporate purpose (written immediately after the horror of the bomb drop at Nagasaki): "To show the World that [Japanese] technology can make people's lives easier." I believe that we are in a new era now -- that we must show the world that the best technology makes people's lives BETTER. Stream brings people together -- analogue-style -- to ponder how to help make this a reality.