The Joy(s) of the Small Conference

There has been a growing trend of late among Americans to re-discover the joys of small things, or at least smaller things. Small, but high quality. [Jason Kottke’s recent experience at the XOXO conference][kottke] in Portland, Oregon is typical in its appreciation of how quality changes when going from big events to small ones:

* Event organizers care deeply about the event and about the participants and want everyone to have a good experience. The result of such a commitment is that the organizers themselves get so personally involved that they themselves have a very profound experience.
* Participants in small conferences are less interested in being hip or cool, in distancing themselves from others.
* Quite the opposite: they find themselves wanting to be involved. Use of devices of mass distraction (phones, tablets, computers) goes way down and listening goes way up.

The down side of such an event, it seems, is that it left Kottke with some longing for authenticity — at least, that’s what seems to be inherent in the quote he has from David Brooks. (I don’t think that Kottke quite follows the idea of *paracosm* as Brooks used it in his description of Springsteen’s imaginary at work on European audiences.)

I think he ends up in the usual spot for the bloggerati who have done well — e.g., Kottke himself, Merlin Mann, etc. — with a kind of Thoreauvian mantra of “gnaw your own bone,” which I am not here dismissing. Instead, I find myself increasingly headed that way, indifferent to the professional and institutional landscapes which I have allowed to dominate my own expressivity for too long.