Party Like It’s 1992

I was about to deliver the closing talk for a social media conference called Pivot last year, when I all-at-once realized that almost nobody there had any idea what social media was really about. While interactive technologies had spread wider and deeper than any of us in the early days had ever imagined, they seemed to have shed something along the way.

Social media offer us an opportunity more spectacular than purchasing video greetings from American Idol contestants for our Facebook friends. They offer us the ability to play an active, conscious role in the development of our networked human future: from distributed communications networks impervious to the censorship of corporate or government regimes to new modes of value creation and exchange, or new open source democratic participation to collective consciousness and expression.

So, in a world now overflowing with networking events, I decided to launch a new conference – Contact – a counter-conference, if you will, dedicated to folding the edges of net culture back to the middle where they belong.

The Internet was prefigured not by Wired but by BoingBoing and Mondo2000. The net revolution is happening on the streets of Cairo, not the Facebook page of PepsiCorp. And social networking is less a tool for kids to agree upon a brand of sport shoe than the unemployed workers of Cleveland to support their collective renaissance.

I’m tired of bemoaning the commercialization of the net, and would rather simply take it back or build another one capable of realizing the tremendous evolutionary potential that these media appeared to hold in store for us as they emerged twenty years ago.

And so I’m gathering the best and brightest hearts and minds I know to reify these possibilities. Scott Heiferman, Dennis Crowley, Mark Pesce, Dave Winer, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Michel Bauwens, Eli Pariser, Marc Canter, Caroline Woolard, Laura Flanders, to name just a few, have already signed up to participate. But this is not a sit-in-the-audience-and-listen-to-speeches-that-you-could-have-watched-on-Vimeo sort of affair.

We might open with some short “provocations” from people in the field sharing their greatest challenges, but the object of the game is to spawn, share, and develop our hopes and dreams. What will come out of this process is anyone’s guess. At at the very least, we’ll convene meetings about the ideas we care about, and vote on the ideas we want to pursue and push forward. We’ll have a giant Bazaar where everyone can demo their works in progress for one another and seek help, customers, or collaborators. We’ll have the chance to get the advice of leading technologists, entrepreneurs, and theorists on our work, and to educate ourselves about what everyone else is doing.

More than that, we will have planted a flag in the sand that social media is evolutionary in spirit, and capable of addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity at the brink of economic, ecological, and cultural crisis. And to celebrate this fact.

I’m also hoping Contact can launch a competition – even in its first year – awarding the four “best voted” ideas put forth by attendees with some real cash to go build them out. If you are an NGO or corporation looking to put your name on such a contest while also potentiating new ideas in this space, please get in touch.

So come if you can, October 20, 2011 at the Angel Orensanz Center in NYC. We’ve only got room for 400 this first year, but you can make Contact anywhere you like through MeetupEverywhere.