Name Dropping – Not My Usual Vice

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I’m almost old enough.

I didn’t actually gasp or gush when I met Craig Newmark of the eponymous Craigslist but I was sufficiently startled by my awestruckness that I became tongue-tied.

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark

Oh I was pleasant enough and acquit myself with adequate aplomb to have made no impression on him whatsoever. But such a missed opportunity.

I was so vigorously chagrined about not engaging Craig in conversation that I totally neglected to be flabbergasted when introduced to Howard Rheingold.

The location was personally meaningful; Shakespeare’s Old Globe in London.

Shakespeare's Old Globe Theatre

Shakespeare's Old Globe Theatre

I met my wife in a Shakespeare class at UCSB 32 years ago and am on the Board of a Santa Barbara theatre group that’s performed Hamlet at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I gawped. I was totally chuffed to be there. I took many pictures.

For the occasion and location, I extend sincere thanks to Ashley Friedlein.

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein

He noted from my Sterne Measures newsletter that I would be in town for a RedEye seminar. “Are you free for tea in the afternoon?” he asked. Little did I know the occasion was the Econsultancy Traveling Geek’s Roundtables.

I had spent a perfectly engaging morning and lunch with RedEye’s clients and should-be clients delving into the tangled web of promotional attribution and was now amidst the Gods and Goddesses of social media.

Fortunately, Robert Scoble had previously attended an eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, so the kick in seeing him in the flesh didn’t knock me off my feet. It was great to see Ian Jindal again, sit next to Ros Lawler of Random House, see Guy Stephens from Carphone Warehouse carrying an eMetrics bag as his laptop case, chat with Kerry Bridge from Dell, and get interviewed by JD Lasica. But I thank heaven that Goddess Susan Bratton was there.

I got to know Susan when I was speaking at and she was chairing Ad:Tech and I’ve closely followed her mastery of the podcasting and ebook publishing world through her Personal Life Media network. If you ever have the chance to have Susan introduce you to somebody, do not hesitate. It’s a transformative experience. She is effusive and enthusiastic, charming and animated, insightful and informative. She has a way of linking the particulars about the people she’s introducing that makes them feel the new connection is a gift. Susan is a social philanthropist. She introduced me to Howard.

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold is the progenitor of social media having been an early adopter of The Well, an online, open discussion community that preceded AOL. It was Usenet for non-techies. My question to him required no planning, research, cogitation or hesitation:

“Don’t you laugh,” I wondered aloud, “when you see all the fuss about social media when you’ve been at it for a quarter of a century?”

“But it’s still so exciting!” he chortled.

Howard’s zeal is easily contagious but is transmitted in deep, abiding ardor rather than flighty exhilaration. “Who knew, back then, when we were pecking at keyboards producing green ASCCI characters on CRT’s,

CRT

CRT

that people would be re-tweeting a video you posted seconds ago?” He then described the future of education, a subject I thought I had completely understood 40 years ago.

I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Arthur C. Clarke, delivered at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, in the late 1960s. That was before the moniker Silicon Valley had been assigned, before Steven Jobs had long hair, and before Star Wars was a movie or even a government program. Clarke was asked about his vision for the future of education. He related the following story:

A young boy at the beach scampers between tide pools. He reaches down into one and pulls out a small shell with tiny claw legs sticking out. Curious, he holds his find near his wristwatch and asks, “What is it?”
The wristwatch analyzes the specimen and replies, “It’s a hermit crab. It lives in tide pools all over the world. This is a young one. It will grow to be twice that size and find protection from predators by living with anemones.”
“What happens when it gets too big for its shell?”
“It leaves its shell and finds another.”
“Can I take it home?”
“No, it would die. But you can find an empty shell and take it home.”
The child carefully places the crab back in the water, continues his search and pockets an empty crab shell. The interaction has been coded as an educational experience and recorded in the school database via satellite.
At the end of the week, a question about turtles will appear on a test to see if the child understands the difference between animals that live in borrowed shells and those that grow their own.

With the exception the necessary artificial intelligence, we have all the necessary technology today.

Howard described his classes at Stanford and Berkeley. “The chairs are all stacked up in the back and students come in and place them in rows facing the front. These kids are so institutionalized. I have to break them of so many habits. Read the book – and the blogs – before you come to class. You want to sit and watch me lecture? Fine – YouTube. You can watch them all. You want to know what I find interesting at the moment? Follow me on Twitter. Befriend me on Facebook, that makes me happy too. But the time we spend together in that room should be dedicated to sharing what we’ve discovered and answering questions and brain storming.

“The technology should leverage our time together, not define it. We should spend more time fostering curiosity and critical thinking.”

So Mr. Clarke almost had it right. The question on the test about turtles will be replaced with a conversation about turtles with an engaged, encouraging teacher.

My conversation with Howard was diverted to the ingestion of Pimm’s Cups, cups of tea and a wonderful tour of the theatre trading photo-ops with Susan and soaking it all up. I was in Anglophile heaven.

I would happily have followed the throng onto their next stop – a Techcrunch Awards Dinner – but I had a dinner date with Chinwag founder Sam Michel, MasterChef producer Claire Nosworthy and writer for hire, Peter Hill. Excellent food and excellent company. The perfect end of a perfectly splendid day in London.

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