Geek fests and the US Third World

Ethan Kaplan, Head of Technology at Warner Bros. Records, blogged about being at Gnomedex last week, saying that geek-fest was fun, but he found the self-important blowhards tiring, and shouldn’t we be thinking about how to use all this cool technology to help “the United States of America’s own third-world.”

For this he got slimed by Scoble, a major and usually sensible tech and video blogger. I’m not even sure what Scoble’s point was except that he appeared enraged that Kaplan said techies too often live in a self-referential bubble and never venture outside it.

The self-important blowhards were one reason I didn’t return to Gnomedex this year. Middle-aged men banging their rattles on the high chair, heckling speakers, does not make for a good conference. Can you imagine that being allowed at a political conference or serious business convention? Not a chance, they’d be thrown out. Yet it happened again this year at Gnomedex.

Kaplan says

What was supposed to, and what I think NEARLY came out of Gnomedex is that beyond the hall of mirrors and navel gazing that is the tech sphere, there is a larger world out there that NEEDS help desperately to get it out of the situation it is in. All the Web 2.0 shit, RSS tagging folksonomy crowd-source bullshit is not going to help situations in developing countries, namely the United States of America’s own third-world.

You want a good task for Gnomedex 08 Chris? Make part of it on the streets of Seattle, coming up with technological solutions to the povery, drugs and lack of health-care that exists on the very streets outside the conference hall. We pay attention to some stupid fight between overweight white guys inside a conference hall, where outside there are significant problems that we ignore for the sake of our own false prophet building.

So, how do we use technology to help others rather than just be entranced by the next shiny widget? We need to pump up the volume on this. With some thought, we can use this technology to genuinely help lots of people.


  1. At last a breath of fresh air from the techie empowered regarding the disempowered, the means of communication should lead to a wider field of mutual aid not the building walls to strengthen the towers of the techie elite.

  2. In 1994, a man named Harsha Liyanage began exploring the idea of putting computers in villages in Sri Lanka. There were many challenges to be overcome, reliable power being first on the list. And there was a great deal of discussion as to how this would actually help the villagers.

    I have to admit, I was skeptical. Yet this experiment developed into the Sarvodaya Village Telecentre programme (See There are now telecentres all over the country, accessible to anyone, and providing training as well as access to technology.

    I am still skeptical as to how much impact these telecentres actually have on the life of a village farmer. But they found a way to bring tech to some of the poorest people in the world and make it usable for them. And in terms of communication within the organization, it has literally moved to light speed (rather than public bus speed).

Comments are closed.