The Conversation: Update

May is approaching and, with it, the launch date.  Micah and I have been spending lots of time researching potential interviewees and, one by one, we've been sending out the emails.  This has been the most intimidating and difficult part of the project thus far, but The Conversation seems to have a certain resonance right now: with only a few exceptions, all of our emails have met positive responses.  We're excited about this.  The Conversation will only be as good as our participants and we are lucky to have a tremendously diverse group of thinkers on board.  When I last posted we had:

Colin Camerer - neuroeconomist at the California Institute of Technology
Jan Lundberg - oil industry analyst and eco-activist
Douglas Rushkoff - documentary producer and author, Life, Inc., Program or Be Programmed
Laura Musikanski - co-founder, The Happiness Initiative

Since then, we've gotten confirmation from:

Lisa Petrides - founder of Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education
Paul Glover - community organizer, founder of Ithaca Hours, the longest used local currency in the US
Eduardo Kac - bio/tech/unclassifiable artist
Joseph Tainter - anthropologist, historian, author, The Collapse of Complex Societies 
Michael Keenan - president, The Seasteading Institute
Alexander Rose, executive director, The Long Now Foundation
Lawrence Torcello, philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology
Ethan Zuckerman, director, Center for Civic Media at MIT
Max More, president, Alcor Life Extension Foundation
Rev. John Fife, co-founder, Sanctuary movement, No More Deaths
Daniel Suarez, author Daemon
Andrew Keen, author Cult of the Amateur and Digital Vertigo
John Lewis, professor emeritus of planetary science at the University of Arizona, author Mining the Sky
Richard Saul Wurman, architect, designer, founder of the TED Conference and WWW Conference
John Zerzan, anti-civilization theorist, author Twilight of the Machines, Elements of Refusal

I have a lot of letters yet to write and I will, no doubt, be researching and emailing from the road.  That said, the beginning of the trip is taking shape and, ready or not, The Conversation is going to be real next week.  In the meantime, we'll be getting our official website in order and preparing to launch our Kickstarter campaign.  We're shooting for $12k, which is at once a skeleton budget and a dauntingly huge number.  If we go over budget, I may be able to afford legal campgrounds and pay the web team.  But if we wash up under budget, well, we will see if I can run a motorcycle on oatmeal.  With a KLR, that's not inconceivable.

More updates and a Kickstarter link soon.

The Forgotten River on High Country News

My story about the Santa Cruz River in Tucson recently got picked up by High Country News' postcast West of 100.  This is very exciting--HCN is an amazing magazine about the US West with a strong environmental bent.  If you've never read them before, you should explore their site a bit.


Snap Judgment

Cool news: the 10th episode of The Decisions Project ("The Breakthrough Gig") ran on NPR's Snap Judgment this weekend.  If you haven't listened to Snap Judgment, check out their website and download their podcast--it's a smart, well-produced show and it doesn't sound like anything else on public radio.

The Decisions Project has also been running on O'Dark on KUT in Austin, Texas so, if you're a fan of nocturnal radio, listen in.


The Conversation

What do Pythagoras, Mao Zedong, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson have in common? The Conversation.

This May--which is now terrifyingly close--I am going to launch my next project.  It's called The Conversation and, essentially, it's a search for the next normal.  Here's the central concept:

At different moments in history, people have fundamentally rethought their worlds.  Old ideas, long considered true or normal, are placed under the microscope to reveal how strange they really are.  New ideas are debated, adopted, abandoned, refined, implemented and, eventually, wind up as a new normality.

The Conversation is the moment when common sense is pulled off the shelf for a rewrite.

Conversations happen all the time, but The Conversation is rare--throwing away old truths is scary and new ideas can explode in unexpected directions.  In one historical moment, The Conversation can yield the idea of inalienable human rights while, in another, it can unveil the guillotine.  To take this risk, there has to be a widespread sense that something fundamental needs to change, even if that "something" is ill-defined.  Change is dangerous, but it can also be the only hope for improvement.

I want to apply this idea to our world, today.  We live far from any historical precedents--our colossal population is supported by a frail scaffolding of logistics that, currently, rests on sinking energy reserves.  Our inherited systems of government and economics have grown with us, but they are increasingly divorced from the people whose lives they purportedly serve.  Our traditional religions seem out of place in a world of science, but an understanding of the physical world has not offered us a new moral system.  Technological change is profoundly shaping how we know the world and live together, yet only a few elites are discussing its ramifications.  We are changing our climate, a process that leaves us alarmed even as we are unwilling to change our behaviors.  Across the political spectrum, Americans are disquieted.

This seems like a moment with enough big issues to warrant The Conversation--but is it happening?  If it exists, I want to find out who is having it and where.  If it doesn't exist, I want to know why.  Are our challenges overblown?  Or do we need The Conversation and we just aren't ready to have it?  Have changes in technology or culture made The Conversation harder or easier to start?

To explore this, I will be collaborating with my friend Micah Saul.  We've been talking about The Conversation for years and, coming from the tech industry, he brings a very different set of experiences to the project.  The Conversation will reflect this: it's going to be a new media type, a combination of the online and the offline, an asynchronous conversation about our future as a country and a planet.

I will spend five months traveling America and interviewing some of our most divergent thinkers while Micah runs the website and maps how their ideas fit together.  We'll bring ideas from one interview into the next but, just as importantly, we will bring your ideas into the interviews, too.  Issues discussed on our website will have a direct influence on how I interview--and even who I interview.

Audio interviews, web discussion, knowledge maps: all of these project elements are well known but, to the best of our knowledge, they have never been combined to form a project like this.  It should be fun.

Who are we going to be interviewing?  Micah and I are finishing up research and have been sending out our first invitations to join The Conversation.  At the moment, we know that we'll be speaking to:

Douglas Rushkoff (author of Life, Inc.)
Jan Lundberg (former oil industry analyst-turned environmental/energy activist)
Laura Musikanski (co-founder of the Seattle Happiness Initiative)
Colin Camerer (neuroeconomist at the California Institute of Technology)

This list should be growing longer every few days.  I'll keep you updated.

We are working with an awesome web designer on the site but, if you're looking for more information about the project, you can visit the placeholder I created.

More soon.