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Can We … Talk?

People’s Economics,” the three-part series of talks held at the Sidhe Brewing Company in St Paul, are over. Viddy will be up soon so that everyone can see the result for themselves, but I’ll give you my take. It was a great experience and, as usual, the comments after my li’l schtick were the highlight.

There’s nothing better than people sitting down over a few beers and talking about real stuff.

For that reason, the rumors that this will be followed by “Barataria on Ice” are completely untrue. Besides, I can’t skate. The most important part wasn’t the performance but the chance for people to sit down and simply talk. Non-partisan, totally real, honest talk. And I think that we’re going to start seeing more of it, too.

A podium may feel nice, but you have to trust your audience more to make a real connection.

A podium may feel nice, but you have to trust your audience more to make a real connection.

It goes without saying that if you’re in the burgeoning personal services biz that “giving a talk” is a good way to promote yourself. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen ads for just this by people with books to sell, financial advice to promote, or social media services to offer. Getting people in a room for one big pitch is a good ticket to success.

You know it’s successful, however, when you don’t just “give” a “talk”. It’s the Q&A that matters – and the mo’ the betta.

The language around this process is still far from appropriate, however. Such “talks” are an outgrowth of social media, where people engage and discuss many serious things. Forums for serious discussion that reaches many people at once existed long before the “internet” as we know it, dating back to the earliest daze of networking. Usenet chatboards and simple discussion boards date back to the days of slow dialup and piggybacking over ARPAnet in the 1970s. As soon as computers were connected people were connected.

Not all "trolls" look like this.  But it's fun to image that they do.

Not all “trolls” look like this. But it’s fun to image that they do.

There has always been a downside, however. The first boards were hardly anonymous due to the arduous process of connecting machines and the personal contact necessarily to arrange it. Usenet, on the other hand, sent messages around the world – and thanks to anonymizers like anon.penet.fi it was possible for people to be completely incognito. Flaming, trolling, and otherwise bad behavior showed up immediately. By 1985 it became necessary to invent the emoticon to separate sarcasm from actual nastiness.

It naturally went downhill from there.

It’s absolutely necessary today to harness the power of online connection. The best way to do it, when possible, is to use the connection to meet in person and get past the faceless, shameless medium that sits in front of all of us right now. That’s why we have tweet-ups, where local twitter users gather for beers, in order to “put a face” to the name. We’re all nicer when we are actual people in the flesh.

That often feels like getting control of the conversation, which is to say getting control of the message in a way that purely online social media cannot. Far too many off-line groups formed by on-line connections are set up as “giving a talk” or a “listening session”. Both are one-way monologues that drop the free interchange advantage of online. That’s a shame. True authenticity and openness demand dialogue, an exchange of ideas.

Would Pope Francis approve?  Sure!

Would Pope Francis approve? Sure!

There was limited success with this in People’s Economics, but what discussion we had was brilliant. The principle was that I stood up with illustrations behind me and seeded the discussion, then answered questions. It should have been more of a round table rather than a speaker-audience arrangement. But the seeding and direction was still critical as an opening. Next time, I may also talk for less time.

How does this forum need to evolve? I can’t say for sure right now, but given the limits of the setup I think the experiment went well. This wasn’t a Ted Talk, it did become a true exchange of ideas where the audience had a chance to really school me. The best moment came when I was reminded of this li’l thing called “inflation” that I somehow left out of the equation – has it been that long since we (officially) had any?

All in all, I hope I’ve seen the future. Getting together to talk about stuff that none of us really understand is the only way to advance our understanding of a complicated world and create order from confusion. But it needs to be refined – as does everything on the internet.

We’ll get this. The next topic? Go over to facebook and cast your vote! And thank you all for getting this done!

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