The Brighton Digital Festival kicked off with a one-two punch of geek conferences: dConstruct and Update.
Update was a labour of love from Aral who worked hard to put together an eclectic, slick event. It was mostly aimed at iOS developers but there was a lot of other stuff in there too, including a range of musical performances. Some speakers, like Matt Gemmell and Sarah, talked specifically about iOS design and development while others, like Cennydd, spoke of broader issues.
In my opinion the most important talk of the day was delivered by Anna who laid bare the state of Britain’s education system—and by extension, Britain’s future. She relentlessly hammered home her points, leaving me feeling shocked and angered at the paedophobic culture of our schools. But there was also hope: as long as there are young people of Anna’s calibre, the network—as wielded by digital natives—will interpret technological clampdowns as damage and route around them (see also Ben Hammersley’s amazing speech to the IACC).
I also spoke at Update. I went in to the lion’s den to encourage the assembled creative minds to forego the walled garden of Apple’s app store in favour of the open web. The prelude to delivering the talk was somewhat nerve-wracking…
The night before the conference, Aral arranged a lavish banquet at the Royal Pavilion. It was amazing. I’m ashamed to say that after a decade of living in Brighton it was my first time inside the building. But I wasn’t able to relax fully, knowing that I had this 18 minute potentially contentious talk to deliver the next morning.
When I got home, I decided I should do a run-through. I always feel like an idiot if I practice a talk by speaking to the wall but in this case I wanted to make sure that I crammed in all the points I wanted to make. I started up Keynote, opened my mouth and …bleaurgh! That’s a pretty good approximation of how legible I sounded. I realised that, although I knew in my mind what I wanted to say, when it came time to say it out loud, I just couldn’t articulate it. I tried for about an hour, with little success. I began to panic, envisioning my appearance at Update consisting of me repeating “Um, know what I mean? Right?”
The day of the event arrived. I was the second speaker. Aral introduced me. I walked on stage and opened my mouth…
And I didn’t screw it up. I made my case without any uhm-ing and ah-ing. I actually had a lot of fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed addressing a roomful of Mac-heads by quoting Steve Jobs. “You don’t need permission to be awesome” he once said. That’s true on the web, not so much on the app store.
Naturally, there were some people who took umbrage with the message I was sending. The most common rebuttal was that I was being unrealistic, not considering the constraints of day-to-day work and budgets. To them, I would quote Steve Jobs once more:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.
In fact I finished up my talk with a slide of one of the Think Different posters; the one with John Lennon. I ended with a quote from Working Class Hero that I thought was a fitting summation of my feelings when I see talented creative people pouring their energy into unlinkable walled gardens:
You think you’re so clever and classless and free but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
(had I been writing my talk on an iOS device, I would no doubt have finished by saying “you’re still ducking peasants as far as I can see”.)
My talk was soon followed by a panel discussion about iOS vs. Android vs. Windows Phone 7 vs. the web vs. whatever else people are currently throwing their time and energy into. In fairly short order it turned into me vs. everyone else.
Now here’s the thing when it comes to any discussion about mobile or the web or anything else of any complexity: an honest discussion would result in every single question being answered with “it depends”. A more entertaining discussion, on the other hand, would consist of deliberately polarised opinions. We went for the more entertaining discussion.
The truth is that the whole “web vs. native” thing doesn’t interest me that much. I’m as interested in native iOS development as I am in native Windows development or native CD-ROM development. On a timescale measured in years, they are all fleeting, transient things. The web abides.
Get me going on universally-accessible websites vs. websites optimised for a single device or browser …then I will genuinely have extremely strong opinions that I will defend to the death.
Still, the debate at Update was good fun. The whole event was good fun. Nice work, Aral.
Update on Update: Amber Weinberg has written an overview of the day and my talk prompted Addy Osmani to write an op-ed in .net magazine.