A few weeks ago I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to participate in the BitNorth Conference, which is taking place in September just a bit north of Montreal. Organized by Alistair Croll, consultant and founder of Solve for Interesting, and Actor Rebecca Croll, this annual conference combines “TED-like variety, Ignite-short presentations, and a FOOcamp-like scruffiness.” It brings together new people and fresh ideas on an invitation-only basis. An “adult geek camp,” it introduces smart people to new ideas and to one another.
The Crolls make Bitnorth a place for different temperaments, talents, and convictions. The event counts “hippies and libertarians, physicists and crop-circle enthusiasts, metal guitarists and belly-dancers” among its alumni. I guess I’ll add science-fiction author and tour guide to that list. Given that the 2014 conference theme is “teaching and learning,” I guess that’s appropriate.
BitNorth is a “two-night campout” in a camp for amateur musicians called CAMMAC, where the accommodations are rustic, the food is cafeteria style, and the people are eclectic. Some folks may choose to swim in the lake but I probably will not: Montreal in September is not warm. I will bring my fleece robe.
CAMMAC in the heart of the beautiful Laurentian Mountains was founded sixty years ago by George, Madeleine, Carl and Francis Little in Montreal. CAMMAC’s founders believed that music was the best way to bring people together, no matter their age, language or culture.
Everyone who attends has to give a five- to 10-minute speech on something that interests them, something that they “absolutely geek out on” and can’t stop talking about. Previous presentations have covered Formula 1 safety; how root cellars trick plants into thinking they’re still underground; a month in a Japanese Zen retreat, crop circles, and the carbon footprint of beer. There have been hands-on demonstrations on making concrete, brewing coffee properly, laughing yoga, slacklining, and how surgeons sew people together. (I don’t want to think too much about how that last demonstration was accomplished—or who volunteered to be the passive participant.
Finding my topic was easy: I didn’t even have to think about what I should talk about. I am, after all, a tour guide and this is what I do. I talk about these things every week. No, I’m not going to tell you in advance.
Finally, I get to spend some time with people like me. This may not be a keynote speech at Consumer Electronics Show, Interop, or even ComicCon. On the other hand, there will be no suffering through long-winded PowerPoint presentations on HPv6, session border controllers, network access control, or packet decode. Just a variety of interesting topics, fun people and, possibly, toasted marshmallows. These are people for whom standing on ceremony, flashing big titles, wearing power suits, and comparing salaries are just not big deals. These are people who enjoy learning new things and just, in general, knowing stuff. They sound like my peeps.
This invitation is a testament to the power of social media. Alistair and I worked together for a few months many years ago at a small start-up company. In the ordinary course of things, we would have gone our separate ways in separate countries a without ever meeting again. But then came LinkedIn, which allowed us to connect and communicate. Then I started The Next Phase blog and began promoting the posts on FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Alistair reads this blog, at least occasionally, and added me to his list of interesting people to invite to @bitnorth. Social media has created a new network, not of wires and punch-down blocks and packets but of people.
It’s going to be interesting and I’m looking forward to our weekend in the Canadian woods. We’ll probably spend a few days of the following week doing the tourist thing in Montreal. I haven’t been there since I was a kid and our parents took us on one of several vacation trips back to the “old country.” fortunately, we have a few weeks to plan our trip. If anyone has ideas and suggestions on what we should see/do/eat in Montreal, please send them along. All information is appreciated.