Now that Kanye West's tweeted musings ("fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on") are considered newsworthy and more people follow Lady Gaga's Twitter account than Barack Obama's, one has to wonder exactly what effect the real-time mass communication will ultimately have on our society — not to mention the media landscape. How do we roll with it, without getting rolled over? That's what both participants and attendees of the upcoming 140 Character Conference (which hits the Back Bay Events Center on September 14) hope to work through.
Created by Internet entrepreneur Jeff Pulver, the 140 Character Conference (or #140conf) is a creative forum for people at the forefront of the real-time media wave. The traveling conference, which kicked off in New York in 2009, has already made stops at Tel Aviv, New York, Los Angeles, and London on its way to Boston. In keeping with the theme of communication brevity, the 60 or so presenters plan to keep their panels to a slim 15 minutes, as they tackle such topics as "Crowdsourcing Cancer," "How We Raised a Barn with Bootstraps," and "Meet Meme, Date Meme."
Local social-media talent will include Adam Gaffin, founder and editor of blogger-run news site Universal Hub; Steve Garfield, founder of Boston Media Makers; self-dubbed "Digital Dad" C.C. Chapman; and even Amanda "Fucking" Palmer, who's jumping in on a music panel.
"One of the main things I love about the 140conf is that you can hear a little bit from a lot of people," Garfield tells me over e-mail. "It's just like Twitter in that respect."
For his part, Gaffin hopes to spread the gospel of insta-news during his panel. "My main message, I guess, is that Twitter has become a fascinating experiment in community journalism," he says. "One that mainstream reporters ignore at their peril." Gaffin, oddly, compares Twitter to CB radio "in its heyday," with respect to its ability to get info to the masses in real time. A tweet, he says, can "answer the single burning question that people ask on stuck subway trains or in traffic jams or as a pillar of smoke rises from the horizon: 'What the hell is going on?' "