Saturday, September 26, 2009


This post is going to be a linguistic geek-fest. Consider yourself forewarned.

I recently applied for a job as Producer/Developer for a Social Entrepreneurship "Unconference". The term "unconference" is relatively new. Here's the definition according to Wikipedia (not my favorite reference, but there aren't many definitions out there):

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose. The term "unconference" has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.

While the term is new the idea is not. I've been a part of so-called "unconferences" since I was a teenager. The gathering I go to on Star Island would be considered an "unconference". But, I have a problem with the new terminology. First of all, I don't think it's a good idea to define something by using it's opposite as the basis for explanation. I don't define myself as a "not-brunette", or a "not-mathemetician" to say that I am a red-headed writer.

I understand the trickiness of trying to create a new vocabulary when current vocabulary isn't doing the job. One has to establish a context, and that's hard to do if the frame of reference is a new or obscure idea, so sometimes it's easier and more effective to attempt to change the connotations. The problem arises when the word that's chosen changes the denotation as well.

The difference between connotation and denotation is this: Denotation=the literal definition of something, regardless of the feelings or ideas the word elicits. Connotation=the idea or feeling that the word produces. So let's look at the term "Unconference".

"Unconference" was created to establish a difference between itself and traditional conferences. Traditional conferences not only have high fees or sponsored presentations, but they may also have a predetermined program where experts talk and amateurs listen. It is a one-to-many format. In other words, B-O-R-I-N-G.

"Unconferences" tend to rely on participants to drive the programming. It is co-created. It is a many-to-many format where experts and novices alike have a chance to speak up, participate, and design the program. The commonalities between conferences and "unconferences" rest in the fact that they are both bringing together a group of people for a common purpose.

Now let's look at the etymology of "Unconference". It's Latin in origin. We have "Un" (not), "Con" (together), and "ferre" (bring). So the denotation of Unconference means "not bringing together". It means the complete opposite of it's intended meaning.

So, I'm suggestion a slight variation that gives a nod to the fact that these gatherings are born from traditional conferences, but have evolved: DEconference.

De=formation from (at least in this case)/ removal or reversal

Deconferences take apart traditional conferences and reconstruct them into a more inclusive, rich experience, but they are still derived from conferences and acknowledge that fact.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Check out my friend Jane on the BBC's website!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ukraine's Got Talent

Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine's version of "America's Got Talent." She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, and sand painting skills to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII. It made my jaw drop. I wish I could understand the lyrics because I'm sure it adds to the whole piece. Incredible stuff.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Health Care Reform

I've been getting irrationally fired up about health care reform lately. So much so that I can't seem to bring myself to respond to ignorant people in any way because I'm seized with rage. This is a shame because I feel like I'm just as bad as the anti-reform people for not being able to listen to another argument. Part of the problem is that I insist on facts. The other part is that I'm enraged because I want to protect people. They are enraged because they want to protect themselves.

I want to know who's working on this stuff. What innovation companies are out there investigating and working on real health care reform scenarios? I'm tempted to start my own small-scale research with people whose opinions I respect (regardless of whether or not our opinions are the same), especially those who work in the health care industry.

I'd also like to know why big pharmaceutical companies are getting a "get out of jail free" card during this health care discussion, especially since Pfizer just paid the biggest health care fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice. Ridiculous.

Google and Books

Remember 1994, when Napster was all the rage? The music industry hasn't been able to figure out what to do with itself since.

Well, the publishing industry is about to experience something similar. Book piracy is not too far away, I'm afraid. Sure, there are plenty of people who manage to download books for free on file-sharing sites, but this is going to be on a much bigger scale.

I might start going into libraries, walking down a random aisle, and taking home the first book I see. I might inject some serendipity into my life. Who knows what I might find? Before you know it, we might not be able to walk into libraries anymore. And I can honestly say that I will never want to curl up in bed with an Amazon Kindle or whatever device google (or whomever they partner with) will inevitably produce.