This is how tech conferences work, a group of high priests spread across the globe co-ordinate to create gatherings for the believers. On appointed days believers are ushered into temples of learning, excitedly sitting ready for their minds to be consumed and souls uploaded to the network. Then the anointed ones, the wise ones, nearly godly ones walk onto the stage. The ones with the answers, the ones who will save us all.
Their heads roll back, a loud crack as they open their jaws wide, a blinding white light emits forth and swirls around the room entrancing those it touches. Elated followers let the light fill them, inspire them... because oh it's so very inspiring, captivated they stand and wait.
Long boney fingers on long boney hands on long boney arms stretch to edges of the stage, pale, white, almost translucent. The face, jaw hanging open wide but now showing the age to match the countless years of wisdom, tired and gaunt emits a hypnotising whine.
The figure lurches forwards clawing its way through the audience, pointed fingers sewering body after body raising them to its gaping maw. Skulls crack as jaws close down, bone splinters fly, the wise one eats the brains.
Every, single, last, one.
Sated, he returns to the stage and surveys the scene of broken bodies, the confused but content smiles resting on what faces remain. A click, the last slide displays, the white light evaporates and in a sharp split-second the audience is restored.
With the brains of the brightest and best eaten the rejuvenated speaker somehow bigger now than before, strides off the stage ready to walk the earth better equipped to save us all, ready for the next pale white keynote wizard to shuffle onto the stage.
We willing give of ourselves to increase their power because we need them, we need them to feast upon our minds so they themselves can reach further than we ever could, solves the problems we can't. They are the thinkers, the solvers, the fixers and we give ourselves over to them for salvation.
The ushers usher us out of that hallowed place into the blinking bright sunlight the godly ones having already flown, blazing trails of CO2 in their wake.
And that's how conferences work.
Maybe I should back up a little and explain.
* * *
The tech conference should not exist.
Or at least not in its current form. This is what I used to believe until I finally understood the truth which I've written above. It's the only way I can make sense of it.
We are post future, we don't have flying cars but we do have the network slowly bringing us everything else. Hmmm, let me put it a different way, if you have a tech conference called "The state of the network" in 2014/15/16 in which speakers and audience travel from different parts of the country/world to talk/hear about how the network is making things better, then we've all clearly failed.
This is how technology and conferences are failing you.
People fly from one country to another, to sit in a room together and watch Edward Snowdon talk from yet another country up on a big screen. Don't even get me started on overflow rooms with screens for keynote speakers.
A conference cannot be about the dissemination of information because we have YouTube. Why reach an audience of 200 when you can reach the wired world? Tech conferences where a person stands at the front and preaches visions as a way to spread knowledge is so laughably outdated it's unreal. Vimeo, Twitch, YouTube, Podcasts, blogs, tweets are all faster and scale more than meatspace.
Maybe it's about the transference of money from supporters to speakers (and organisers). Perhaps those speakers wouldn't share their knowledge for free on the intertubes, maybe they've spent years working something important out and deserve to be remunerated for by a select few followers. Ah, Information as limited resources to give it value in a digital era, and of course not forgetting that speakers often don't get paid anyway.
Again technology is failing us if we can't work out a way to pay people for information in the age of the internet. However you're right, it's just like music. Bands have to accept that their music spreads for free (or even encourage it) as record labels cling to the last century, and make the money instead from gigs, a paying audience who want the live experience.
Which brings me to the final reason given for conferences. "That was inspiring" is the comment I often hear when asking someone how a conference went... "I'm not quite sure what they said is applicable to what I'm doing, but it was inspiring". Paying to be inspired, yeah ok, I get it. This goes smoothly into "it was a chance to get together with friends I don't normally get to see, and work paid for it".
If going to a conference is the only way to get time free from work to see your friends and peers then once again we have been tricked out of the technological future we were promised. The one where we weren't all so busy making computers do work for us that we had some leisure time beyond grabbing a coffee at lunch with the next start-up over.
The speakers are just a backdrop for the meetings in the corridors and bars. The solution to that is an Event not a Conference. Stop going to conferences, stop making conferences, stop flying people halfway around the world, putting them up in hotels and making them talk to 400 people in a room. Go to an event and talk with all 400 people in a room instead.
* * *
The tech conference should exist.
That is what I believed for a long time. I stopped going to conferences, well the conferences itself, I've still gone to the location of a conference to meet my friends and hang out in the bar afterwards. Paid for the transport and hotel myself, and then caught up with the conference videos afterwards if available. Then worked out how to support the speakers by buying whatever it is they're selling, if anything.
No, this is what I realised.
A conference is a way to force a smart person hurtling forwards to stop and collect their thoughts by making them a speaker, otherwise they'd be too busy to record their own video or write a blog post.
Every conference speaker I've know has come out of a conference understanding themselves and what they are thinking about better then before they went in. Its been the same when I've spoken at conferences (which I've stopped doing now) the weeks beforehand gathering up all the threads of an idea or two, weaving it all together for a single point in time.
These brilliant minds, which often run along and beyond the bleeding edge need to be made to focus to raise them to the next level so we can all benefit.
We supplicate ourselves before our idols, allowing them to consume our energy and brain to evolve themselves further. And that is what conferences are for, because otherwise what use are they that we shouldn't have already solved with technology.
* * *
1. I use "priests", "he" and "white" here for satirical purposes, because this sadly still reflects the current state of tech conferences.
2. If a conference speaker is pitching the same talk time after time, then there is no point to them because no new thinking is being done. Just simply record the first one and publish it. If the speaker doesn't want to have the talk recorded because they want the ability to keep their knowledge as a limited resource and trot it out time and again, then you know, fuck 'em.
3. Events vs Conference. If we look at a list of conferences as defined by Wikipedia compared to a "Tech Conference" we can see a difference. Here are some examples "Academic conference, in science and academic, a formal event where researchers present results, workshops, and other activities." (tech conferences with presented results are good)... "Peace conference, a diplomatic meeting to end conflict."... "Business conference, organised to discuss business-related matters". In fact here's the general definition "A conference is a meeting of people who "confer" about a topic.". While a tech conference is often people standing at the front not conferring at all.
4. I am available to speak at your conference on the subject of why your conference shouldn't exist, please speak to my agent.