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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Conferences Everywhere: Are They Worth Your Time?


It seems like since the rise of TED, everywhere you look, a new conference is happening. It is hard to know whether they will be worth the cost and more importantly time.

Last week, I went to the Atlantic Ideas Forum in DC. This was a day and a half of back to back interviews and some presentations that were each about 30 minutes. The interviewees included John Kerry, Eric Holder, Craig Venter (via skype), Ernest Muniz, T Boone Pickens, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and many more.

One of the best ways to breathe life into my everyday routine is by taking some distance, not too much, a little. It is so helpful to step away from daily activities and then return with a new perspective and enthusiasm. It is hard to be away from the office more, but one day every 2 months is possible, especially if the day is planned in advanced so nothing else can be scheduled. I recommend that everyone at Newswise tries to plan a day like this. No one ever takes this opportunity, so I hope this post will be a reminder for the people that I see on a daily basis. 

The speakers and interviews at the Atlantic Ideas Forum cover many various topics, from politics to literature and much more. I find it very helpful to be able to take a step up and look at things from the perspective outside of the communications circle. By hearing about issues related to cybersecurity, the dying novel, female owned sports organizations, or terrorism. Most of the time, I can find ways to apply some of messages to my daily challenges.

My favorite segment, by Mick Ebeling from Not Impossible Labs, was the most memorable and impactful of the two days. He told his story about creating and solving problems for individuals who are in great need, such as a boy whose arms were blown off in Sudan. His process is “to commit and then, figure it out.” Sometimes he says that he feels overwhelmed but it has helped him to be able to do some incredible things. As he said, the group has solved individuals’ problems and then they apply those solutions to empower a village or a wider population. Check out his video here at:

Another of my favorite guests of the two day event, was David Cohen, the US Treasury Under Secretary, who discussed how the US Treasury is actively involved in trying to shut down ISIL. Cohen’s office has their own in-house intelligence agency and so they are a major component and force in the efforts against terrorism as well as with Iran, Cohen’s efforts were said to have a great impact in shutting down the Iranian nuclear program.

Megan Smith who is now the White House Chief Tech Officer, formerly at Google, talked about the importance of children learning to code and becoming familiar with coding. She mentioned which shows children or maybe even adults how to create an app. I looked into this site and it is a great way for children to begin to feel comfortable with coding.

As expected from Susan Rice, when asked about US-Israeli relationship crisis, said there is no crisis, in fact the relationship is “fundamentally stronger than ever.”  And then soon after the tone of the conversation change with T Boone Pickens who was refreshingly non politically correct in his responses, even if he doubts all research on the negative effects of fracking. He asked the audience to show him the research, so here is some Newswise Fracking Research. Thank you Newswise members!

Chad Dickenson the CEO from Etsy, got me to pay attention and become interested in Etsy. He explained how Etsy cares about the local economies of the individuals and vendors they represent, unlike a company out of Arkansas. That was particularly funny considering The Walton Foundation was an underwriter of the event. I have liked how The Atlantic maintains the voices of opposing positions, even though they are underwritten one of those voices. They seem to have maintained their journalistic perspective in the curation of these events. In this spirit, The Onion editor, Cole Bolton showed some of their pieces satirizing John Kerry, who would talk the following day. 

Just before John Kerry was going to speak Morgan Marquis Boire and Dimitri Alperovitch were on stage to discuss Cybersecurity. Boire said that the cell tower was likely being used to listen to communications of people at the conference, because of the important speakers that were about to be on stage, referring to John Kerry. This information although shocking for many, didn’t seem so strange with the super high level security surrounding the theater. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Homeland. Dimitri Alperovitch mentioned that it is known who is behind all cyber attacks. Although the attribution may not be revealed, the perpetrators are always known.

For those of us interested in the media, Mike McQue, the CEO at Flipboard, said people are using their phones to read a lot of content and that the number of readers who will use their phones to read long form journalism, depends on the format of the content.

Another of my most favorite segments was with Shane Smith, from Vice, and Jay Carney, the former White House Press Secretary. When asked, why don’t people believe in climate change? Carney answered, “there is no instant gratification in it’s resolution. Rubio doesn’t have to worry about Florida sinking today.”

I think that is enough inspiration for today. If you would like to see or hear more of the highlights of the conference go to The Atlantic to see the recorded interviews.

Posted by Jessica Johnson Papaspyridis on 11/06/14 at 02:23 PM


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