PLANETWORK: A Conference on
Global Ecology & Internet Technology

March 2000
Page Three of a Three Page Interview

ECOTECTURE: A chat room?

JF: It is not really a chat room. It is threaded discussion.

ECOTECTURE: Threaded discussion?

JF: Yes. That often means that someone starts a topic. We will start with people who actually present topics at our conference. However, anybody can start one. These things often live and die on how well a real live human is behind them. Often a person who is inspiring to others who becomes the attractor.

Utne Cafe, which is actually up for a Webby (award) this year for their online discussion, is hosting that for us. We also will be hosting one ourselves, there is a good chance (the online magazine) will be hosting one for us as well.

Our objective (for the Online Conference) is to partner as much as we can, but not to be exclusive. We want to include as many people and organizations as possible.

With the number of people we have presenting at the face to face conference, it could easily be a week-long conference if we didn't run events at the same time. We tried to hold a fair amount of time by keeping the breaks long and lunch long for networking sessions.

ET: There will also be time in the evenings for networking, and, I hope some fun! We have tried to create as much open physical space on site as we can to encourage people to sit down with each other and network. As I was saying before, we will have a forum for on-line poster sessions.

JF: We should probably call them Website Presentation, because that is what they are.

ET: They will run in the mornings primarily. The Conference is set up so that there will be three rooms with simultaneous, single-person presentations in the mornings from 9:00 to 1:00. There might be some presentations that aren't of interest to some. There is only so much of the day that some people can listen to other people talk. (in that case) they can present their own web site or go to a website presentation or go into another room where vendors with interesting software or other tools will be stationed. We are trying to allow people to participate creatively- do what they want to do. Given the limitations of the time, the jam packed nature of our programming schedule, and the limitations of the space, we are trying to do as much as we can.

Also, we will have at least two simultaneous remote meetings over the course of the weekend - one in Venice, Italy, and one in London. Folks are gathering in those places to interact with some of our speakers via live webcasts to create their own smaller version of PlaNetwork. We are trying to make this a global springboard.

If it inspires other people to create their own groups and have meetings around these issues, that's great. If we can find some way to hook up, live, or almost live, that would be exciting, so we are trying to do that as well...

ECOTECTURE: I suspect that there is a lot...

ET: It's insane... . . (ALL LAUGH). Two people, volunteering our time, no money, it's insane.

JF: It is interesting, too, when we started this thing two years ago, we were advised not to be too ambitious about it . . "Don't try to organize a party too. Make it about the right size." At this point I think there are between three and five parties associated with the Conference. All the major ravers are out.

JF: Major ravers. We should have that on our publicity (All Laugh).

ECOTECTURE: You will get a lot of young people there.

JF: There is a whole trance music scene, and much of it is very spiritually and ecologically oriented. It is very interesting, the strange convergence of high tech and ecological consciousness among the young people.

ECOTECTURE: How many presenters are there at the Conference?

ET: About 65, between the single speakers and the various panels.

ECOTECTURE: How many people will attend?

JF: About 700, which is about as many as we can possibly pack into the space.

ET: We are confident that it will get the number of attendees we want, but we still have some space. People should not wait to sign up at the door, because we might have to turn them away. There are fire code restrictions.

JF: And that is just, well, tough. Register now. (All Laugh).

I suspect that this year it will turn out to be just the right size. Some people may have to be turned away, but, hopefully, not many. With the web site, we are trying to make it as accessible as we can. Even if you come to the entire Conference, you can't see more than about one third of it, because it's all parallel events all the time. It is at least a three ring, and more like a four or five ring circus.

What that means is that no matter what you do, you will probably catch much of it on the web. We are trying to cover it that way, and bring in outside information from other events, so the online event is richer and more varied that what happens there.

ET: An additional goal is to catalyze a sense for those working in the high tech industry that their skill sets can play a highly important role in the search for solutions to our planet's most pressing problems. We want to speak to whatever egos need to be stroked in that particular community and tell them that they could actually play an heroic role in helping create an ecologically sustainable planet.

The other side of that equation is to invite people working at the front line of the environmental issues to come and see what the tools can do to accelerate awareness for their work. It seems to me that is already happening on the environmental end of the spectrum. It remains to be seen whether info tech professionals are really waking up and getting it in terms of the crisis on the planet. If dotcoms start taking a nosedive, maybe they'll... (laughs)... Have some time to think about things.

JF: People who are in the thick of it in the high tech world are so busy with the challenges thrown at them by their job...


ET: Yeah.

JF: ... 80 hours a week, they can't come up for air and think about anything. On the other hand, what we already seeing happening as a result of that impetus to succeed, is people retiring early. This is the position I was in. Having been in business, having done that, gotten that perspective and looking around and saying, "Wait a minute. Without the biosphere there really isn't any true wealth, there isn't any security, there is no security for your children." The fundamental infrastructure and foundation of our prosperity is the biosphere. Humanity has gotten to the point where we can threaten that. It's not whether humans will survive, it's the impoverishment of countless future generations that's at stake.

We are beginning to see this even in young Microsoft millionaires who are starting to give the money to things like children's health. It's not a big step to think about the situation from a system's point of view, and see that without working on the environment, nothing else matters.

The other piece of it is not just a question of throwing your money at the problem. We have actually gotten to the point where many of the core problems in the world are problems of human perception and belief. If ultimately the information technology allows us to get leverage on that ( we could go a long way toward solving the problem) . It is also a matter of having the feedback loop to know what you are doing. If you put your hand on the stove, you burn your finger and pull it away. If we destroy some part of the bioshpere, unless we have a way of getting the information feedback and feel the pain, we don't, as a collective, react properly.

The ability to make those connections, and to put our energies on those very core survival, prosperity, wealth (issues)... all these things really come down to the planet. I think it is the kind of people who have the education and the skill sets to go into infotech, and who, frankly, have the kind of mission oriented drive, who are most likely to rise to the challenge. The most important environmental skills these days and biology and ecology and infotech. That is where were are trying to reach people so we point out, "It's not your money we want... we will take that too (All Laugh). . .

ET: ... it is your skill set that is crucial.

ECOTECTURE: Absolutely. Do you think of the Conference as a watershed?

(Both hesitate. All Laugh.)

ET: Wouldn't that be nice? RIGHT now that we're just trying make it happen.

May 12 - 14, 2000
San Francisco

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