Foo Camp 2007

June 25th, 2007

This weekend was the O’Reilly Foo Camp for 2007. Foo was big this year — about 300 people. And wildly varying types of people — pretty much anyone the O’Reilly folks think is interesting.

When I got home yesterday, I realized that this weekend was extremely disconnected for me. That’s highly unusual at an O’Reilly event. In part it’s because I always choose to camp in the orchard, rather than camp out in the building space available or get a hotel room. There’s no power in the camping area, and my stuff is a ways away from the activities. In past years I’ve carried my computer around with me. This year I just left it in my pack in my tent, along with my phone. And I wasn’t alone. Of course there were plenty of people with computers, but there were also a bunch of us traveling light.

This year the facilities also encouraged disconnectedness. There were a lot fewer conference rooms available; more of the building space is in use and off-limits to Foo Campers. So the O’Reilly folks set up a bunch of rent-a-tents in the parking lot as discussion areas. The tents each had a table, chairs and a white board, but no power. That meant no projectors and no computer-based presentations. It also meant almost no one took their computers to the tents. There was very little multi-tasking — very little searching the web for info, reading mail, IMing, twittering, whatever.

All there was to focus on was the discussion, which as a result sometimes felt quite slow. The topics were broad enough that several different conversations would bounce back and forth. And there was nothing to do but listen when the conversation veered off in a direction tangential to my thoughts. For example, one tent session was “How to Measure the Health of Communities.” It was fascinating, but had many different ideas in it. A few of us are involved in technology communities and so had some clear goals and thus some obvious clear measurements. Others are involved in organizing tech and civic groups. A couple of people were interested in “social groups” and when these become communities. Many were interested in figuring out what the goals of a particular community might be. The conversation wandered around among these. One person kept trying to get the group back to the identified topic, how do we measure? I don’t think it was a very successful effort though.

The measurement piece is of great interest to me — other organizations have a lot to teach Mozilla. The session introduced me to people with similar interests, and then tickled my brain with all sorts of different ideas related to communities.

Usually the O’Reilly events are a combination of high connectedness and then running into people and talking. This one had the usual can’t-get-to-my-first-cup-of-coffee-because-there-are-too-many-interesting-
people-between-me-and-the-coffee, but-I’m-too-foggy-brained-to-be-coherent-yet feeling. (Tara Hunt rescued me with her personal coffee stash, starting Sunday off right for a bunch of us.)

I realized that the disconnectedness of many of the sessions I attended meant that each of us participated with exactly the resources we brought with us — our own experience, expertise, and abilities. The sessions would have been different with real-time Internet access. The session on “Social Implications of Craft” would have been different with access to the various definitions of “craft“. Without this we spent some time recreating these definitions, so there was less efficiency. But the trade-off was a much more personal discussion; and a much more exploratory discussion.

Now it’s time to dive back in to normal life.

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