$6,000 a head, just to listen and talk. Disconnected doesn't even begin to cover it.
Wading back into the mental fray after my much-needed vacation, brain brimming with ideas, I end up stumbling on this dispatch, about of all things, events based around ideas. In this case, Paul Carr gets a barb in at TED as a "celeb-filled mutual handjob" and (kind of) endorses PopTech as a (kind of) more egalitarian alternative.
After all, TED costs $6,000 a ticket while PopTech costs...
A mere $3,000.
Yes. For those of us who don't quite make that much in a month, this might, however brilliant the attendees or atmosphere, seem like one group of the gentry are grousing about how another group just simply isn't in touch with reality anymore, because they're lining their mansions with platinum instead of common gold.
Yeah, there are a fair number of brilliant speakers at TED and similar conferences. I enjoy the talks and I've posted several here before on topics that struck my fancy. The local TEDx events (because they're often cheap or free), can be a great venue to get local innovators together and promote public dialogue, provided they don't descend into the same circular onanism as their forebear.
Call me crazy, but I'd love to see more catcalls, boos and arguments at TED-style events. Ideas aren't always pretty and the important ones, horror of horrors, tend to actually get people upset.
It also tends increases the perception that world-changing ideas are exclusively the province of the rich, due to the fact that paying $3-6,000 to eat, drink and talk to people is not exactly something most people will ever be able to afford. Sarah Lacy has a good rant on how TED's class structure goes even further than that. Gawker, not exactly fans of the event, managed to get ahold of the secret 2008 guest list, which is a pretty revealing document.
But what I've thought about most recently is the conference price tag. PopTech had 600 attendees, at $3,000 a pop, totaling $1.8 million in ticket sales alone. That's a lot of money, and it got me thinking about what such funds might do if applied more to action than socializing. I wondered what $1.8 million could do for the starving or under-educated. How many people could get a full scholarship to a good college on that money? How many families could get their heating bills paid, needed medical care, or access to technology to help bridge the digital divide just a bit? It could provide no small amount of clean water or vaccines and a staggering number of microloans. If you want to get more aggressive, it would provide a sizable bounty for a war criminal that's escaped justice.
So, let me propose something, we'll call it NoCon. Forget fancy dinners or parties. Forget big-name talks. Use that internet TED-style luminaries are talking about all the time and communicate that way, throwing in some old-fashioned phone conversations if need be.
Everyone who would otherwise chuck $3,000 just for a damn ticket can instead invest that money (hell, let's go lower and say $2,000) into a fund to "attend" NoCon. Over the course of a month or so, the "attendees" share their presentations for how this money should be spent and why. NoCon decides, by vote, which project gets the funds and set some verifiable metric for "success" in that area (x number of people provided with food, said war criminal dead or captured).
NoCon could hold just enough funds aside to pay for a drink for every attendee, wherever they are in the world, if the year's project meets that measure of success. It would probably taste pretty damn delicious, because some definite good had been accomplished with money that — I'll say it — would otherwise go to waste.
That's an approach which would put teeth into some good ideas and all it would require is some of the higher-priced con attendees willing to forgo over-priced events in favor of putting their money where their mouths are. I won't hold my breath.
P.S.- Full disclosure: I went to Gov 2.0, where elites were out in force, in 2009 on a steeply discounted invite. While I had my gripes (and the need for more diversity was a big one), there were vying audience reactions and genuine criticism. O'Reilly Media, to their credit, actually had the guts to put a live Twitter feed up behind the speakers and responded to the critiques to a degree that pleasantly surprised me.