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For me, one of the highlights about last week's Public Media 2007 conference was the moment when I stood in a hallway outside an auditorium at MIT, on a lovely Saturday afternoon, sipping coffee, chatting it up, and meeting Dave Winer.
There was certainly an element of star-factor here for me, without a doubt. Dave is one of the jewels of the web crown having given us stuff like RSS, podcasting, blogs, and other non-essentials (insert sarcastic giggle here) like these. And although I have had similar opportunities to meet and discuss web stuff with web gurus like Dave at these conferences before, meeting and chatting with Dave was different. We didn't talk much about the web.
I introduced myself to Dave by referring to a post he had just written while sitting with me and lots of other folks while we listened to a couple of folks speak, just a few moments before. I mentioned I agreed with his post.
In fact, I did not go seeking Dave in order to walk away saying,
"I just met DAVE!"
I did introduce myself because he was standing nearby and nobody had his attention at that moment. After the intro, he asked how to pronounce my last name and we joked that it looked funny on my self-scribbled name tag; wouldn't it be hard to pronounce "Haenel" if it were spelled "Hhenel"? This was worth a few good laughs indeed, and was refreshing compared to the jokes that usually fly around regarding my last name, such as, "hey, that rhymes with..."
My buddy Dale Hobson stopped by at that moment and joined in. Not surprisingly, the conversation turned toward public involvement in government (if you knew Dale you'd understand - he brings this out in everyone) and public conversation as a solution (Dave's apparently been thinking on this one for a while).
After a few words about what's going on and what people can and will do, I asked Dave whether he thought people would actually get involved in what's going on around them, since many of us feel relatively powerless. Also I also asked if it would make any difference. He made the point that I am not powerless, and if I could somehow bring myself to be involved, then I would be involved. He said I should begin talking with people about these things, and that if I did, others would talk too. I said that sounded fine for me, and that I would certainly do my part, but what about everybody else?
Dave said, that's part of the problem, "that's the elitist mentality."
I agreed. You see, we can't see ourselves as separate from everyone else. We must see ourselves as one of the group if we are to have any kind of group at all. I told Dave he was right and that I would change my thinking. Then he said, "One of the things I learned a long time ago was that if I changed myself, others changed around me."
I guess the idea is that change attracts change. Good attracts good. I love it. No mention of RSS or podcasting or blogs at all.
His post yesterday says our conference was different, and he talks about public media people seeming to have a different goal than other media people.† How are we different? Well, I think we're different in the sense that Dave talked about in his "Public Radio Manifesto, Part II" post. He thinks public discourse is where we (all) went wrong - we, as a society, aren't having enough of it.
Our mission, as public broadcasters, has always been to encourage public discourse by building and being a part of the community, not just speaking to it from above. Mainstream media doesn't work like that. Their model is based on generating revenue by distributing information to the community, as though the community were a customer on the outside. Where there's a wall between mainstream media and the public, there is no wall with us. We ARE the public - that's why we call it PUBLIC BROADCASTING.
Anyway, Dave liked us. He liked all of us. We liked him. And it looks to me like he must have enjoyed the coffee break as much as I did.