I always feel like I should have to show my passport to get into Las Vegas. That there must be some kind of border patrol at the entrance to the place, because if it isn’t a different country, it sure feels like one. At times it’s actually more like a different planet.
My own personal alienation and existential horror aside, a lot of people love Las Vegas, so a lot of conferences are held there. I looked forward to the New Media Expo because I had thoroughly enjoyed it a year earlier when it was here at home in Los Angeles. It didn’t disappoint, and in fact, this year’s edition was even better.
The conference is aimed at bloggers, podcasters and other “new media” types (or as Guy Kawasaki, Leo Laporte and at least one other speaker called it; artisanal media), not necessarily at people like me who write for corporate blogs. But the Internet is the Internet and a blog is a blog. They all have the same purpose; to be interesting and valuable enough to catch a glimmer of attention in the daily tsunami of information. And on that front, New Media Expo covers a lot of bases.
At its best, NMX is a messy cauldron of ideas and theories and experimentation. At its worse, it’s a bit like a Happytown Positive Affirmation cult (that’s not a real thing, is it?). But frankly, if that’s the worst thing anyone can say about you these days – that you’re too positive – you’re in pretty good shape. But if you’re a cynic, contrarian or general grump of any kind, you’ll find yourself seriously outnumbered at NMX. You won’t stand a chance in maintaining your cynicism, so check it out at your own risk.
Where else can you sit and eat a doughnut with (and pick the brain of) someone who has millions of followers on Google+ and then an hour and a half later, bounce your own weird political theories off the guy who heads up Edison Research, the national exit polling firm?
Nowhere else, to answer my own rhetorical question.
In the late 1970s and very early 80s I played in punk rock bands (I’ll give you a second to let that sink in, and to allow you to formulate an appropriate “LOL! You’re so old!” dig for the comments section).
I mention it only because the conference had what you could call a punk rock feel to it this year. From the steamy, sardine-room-only talks of several of the speakers (in Dino Dogan and Amanda Blain‘s sessions I was elbowing people out of my space like it was a 1981 Bad Brains show), to Michelle Shocked mocking an unfortunate panel member who was representing his canned music service. Even the normally mild-mannered Leo Laporte got into the spirit, calling for the death of traditional media (okay, he really said, “We want to put them out of business,” which is the same thing if you ask me).
Another sort of punk rock thing that I couldn’t help but notice was that many of the keynote and session speakers became known or notorious for not following the established rules or guidelines they were confronted with. Yet they find themselves speaking to a few thousand people at NMX who are eagerly taking notes on How To Do Things. Essentially creating new rules and guidelines, ostensibly for someone else to come along and break, who they will then pay to listen to.
I suppose that’s human nature though. And realistically, as was apparent in every punk rock club I ever set foot in, when everyone is an outlaw, no one is an outlaw. But what we were – back in ye olden punk days, and at NMX – is kindred spirits. All looking for the same thing and comparing notes of one kind or another. And that’s pretty cool, no matter what kind of music is in your iPod.