Photo by Elizabeth Thomsen
Podcamp Boston 4 just ended, which means, really, that another year has just begun.
Podcamp is always a profoundly motivating and inspiring experience for me, and I have actually begun to track major changes in my life based on how they have spun around the axis of Podcamp, which always seems to serve as a hinge in time, often even as an active wedge for change.
So, to paraphrase a friend’s totally legitimate question to me this weekend:
What is the point of Podcamp?
I am always somewhat taken aback when someone says something about Podcamp being mostly about podcasting; I had sort of forgotten that that was the weekend’s alleged subject matter. And in a way, I guess it is about podcasting, along with other related topics. If you were to look at a list of the session topics, you might come away thinking that the conference is nothing but the nuts and bolts of podcasting, SEO, Twitter, and other “social media” type esoterica.
And, to a certain extent, it is.
But only on the surface. For me, podcasting is really just a front for Podcamp, it’s only the skin of it, it’s just the flashy neon sign that hangs out in front while the real card game goes on inside.
In fact, Chris Penn, one of Podcamp’s founders, writes eloquently about this essential nature of Podcamp here. And it’s something of what I touched on when I reflected on my experience at NewBCamp in Providence last year.
There’s something a bit more profound going on at Podcamp, and it has nothing to do with learning about what type of microphone works best for two-person interviews.
Chris Penn articulates it as a sense that we are capable of greater things, that we can in fact do things that other people tell us are impossible, improbable, and even unseemly. It’s true: there’s something unbelievably powerful about how Podcamps encourage everyone to participate — but not just to participate, to pass it on, to encourage others to participate as well. It’s all part of the “Everyone is a Rockstar” ethos of Podcamp, and it’s sort of breathtaking to watch it in action.
At one of the sessions I attended, a packed room of people sat and waited patiently for the presenter to arrive and begin. When it was ten minutes after starting time, somebody suggested that perhaps the presenter was a no-show.
Suddenly, four people were at the front of the room, volunteering to improvise a presentation on the exact topic that was originally scheduled for that session. They worked out a division of labor, each of them agreeing to talk about an aspect of the topic that they were particularly strong in. Within two minutes, we were up and running with, I am convinced, an even stronger presentation than the one that had been planned.
I told this story to Chris Brogan (the other co-founder of podcamp along with Chris Penn) at lunch, and he just smiled and said That’s so Podcamp.
I went to several of the bigger sessions in the main ballroom, where the topics were huge and diffuse, things like “What’s on our minds now?” Sounds like you get to listen in on a conversation between the big thinkers in the field of social media, right? Hear what they think is coming next, what they are sniffing in the air, with their special powers of discernment and understanding…
In fact, what these sessions consisted of was a Phil Donohue-style session of passing the microphone around from one participant to the other, giving anyone who wanted to the opportunity to speak their mind. Some people talked about marketing trends, while others talked about how sick they were of hearing about marketing, when it was relationships that really mattered; some talked about iPhone apps they would like to see developed, while others talked about the everyday violations of online data privacy and security that iPhones can now enable; some talked about how we all need to cool it on our collective narcissism and obsession with personal branding, while others suggested that we would be sunk if we didn’t work hard on our personal branding over the next year.
In his reflections on this year’s Podcamp, Chris Penn wrote about breaking the shackles of your own potential, about swinging away at our own “chains of doubt and fear.” At last year’s Podcamp, I was still dithering over whether or not I would jump with both feet into an MBA program that would require an hour-and-a-half commute each way, that would challenge my self-concept in ways that made me more than a little uncomfortable, and that I suspected would require me to leave my job and find new sources of income that didn’t come with the comfort and security of a salary. When I attended Podcamp last summer, I spoke with several people who, each in their own way, helped me make the hard decision to jump, and jump wholeheartedly, without fear or hesitation.
When I ran into one of those friends again at this summer’s Podcamp, he asked me how my leap was going, and where it had taken me. When I told him, he said that I should consider myself Exhibit A of how change can bring us places we never thought we could go, and how it can help us cover distances in a year that we thought would take a lifetime.
My story of change is somewhat similar to the one Chris tells about Chel, who was the lead organizer for Podcamp this year. Chel is really Exhibit A, but there’s no reason why we all can’t be.
So what is the point of Podcamp?
I am not saying that Podcamp is about some airy concept of personal change and growth and self-fulfillment. It’s much, much scarier than that. Podcamp is about taking responsibility for your own experience. It’s about choosing to be the author of your own life, with all the blame and glory that goes along with that. It’s about realizing that your responsibility for your self is not just a duty to be all you can be, or whatever, but it’s also a duty to the community.
Because we need you to do that awesome thing you’ve been considering, even if it is just a Big Huge Hammock in Boston Common.
Because we need you to remind us that our lives can be centered around work that we are passionate about.
Because we need to see you do the impossible, so that we can begin to believe that we can, too.