Episode 166 - AgitaTED!!
Published April 30, 2015
SPECIAL GUEST: Rachel Haywire (INSTED). Technology. Entertainment. Design. TED. The TED conference and the foundation that runs it have become a viral sensation on the Internet. Their videos have been viewed millions of times by people all over the world. But has this success resulted in a dilution of the very things that TED seeks to promote? We're joined this episode by Rachel Haywire, the founder of INSTED, an anticonference that seeks to create a new space for disruption, dissent and innovation. The first INSTED is set for 5/2/2015 in Los Angeles and there are some bigger possibilities ahead as well. Recorded 4/27/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
INSTED home page
INSTED on Twitter
Rachel Haywire on Twitter
Rachel Haywire on Patreon
Trigger Warning, an online publication that includes Rachel Haywire's writing
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #166. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us on this episode of Robot Overlordz is Rachel Haywire. Rachel, thanks for joining us.
Rachel Haywire: Thank you.
MJ: Could you tell our listeners a little bit about your background?
RH: I’m an artist, a writer, a general instigator, and I like long walks on the beach… No. [Laughs] I guess you could consider me to be a multimedia artist who likes to push the limits in all ways, everything from writing to modeling, to just basic getting things together and making weird things happen that are very out of the box, but not out of the box in the same way that TechCrunch Disrupt is out of the box, but just actually, really out of the box.
MJ: So, not like an IBM commercial?
RH: Yeah, yeah, not like the fancy version of WIRED. More like the old eZine version of that other magazine.
MJ: So, you’ve got a conference coming up that we’d like to talk to you about a little bit, INSTED. For people who are not familiar with that, could you tell us what that is?
RH: INSTED is kind of like an anti-TED. It’s for people who are into technology and that are into internet culture, that are into entrepreneurship and that are sick of the narrative of festivals like TED and SXSW. We find them cliche and pretentious, overpriced and not really disruptive like they claim to be.
MJ: Where and when is INSTED?
RH: So, we’re having the event on the 2nd of May, which is this saturday in downtown Los Angeles. We’ve rented out a big art lot, kind of like with a Burning Man-type feel. It’s going on from 10AM to 10PM.
MJ: For your speakers, would you say they are the main attraction, then? Or is it more that the people that are going to be there are kind of the participants interacting?
RH: Yeah, kind of a combination of everything, from the speakers to the participants, to the bands, to the artists. It’s really a packaged deal, you know. You come to network, you come to listen to the talks, you come to hear the bands, and to have a good time and to meet new people.
MJ: Who are some of the people that you’ve got that are speaking?
RH: Robin Hanson, Elissa Shevinsky, we have Joshua Ellis, and actually I just booked this new woman named Arden Leigh, who does kind of like the science of attraction kind of thing from more of a pro-dom perspective. Then we have a little bit more on the ultratech side of things, I guess you could call it, where people are talking about everything from energy renewal to alternative currencies, and Andrew Dodson is going to be speaking about alternative energy. Ray Podder is going to talk about the whole… You know the debate about abundance and scarcity? He’s going to really nail that home. So, a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
MJ: How have you found those speakers so far? Are these people that you, yourself, know or that people have suggested to you?
RH: Friends of mine, friends of friends, also working with a few people that I’ve booked before when I did my first festival, the Extreme Futurist Fest, which was like more of a transhumanist thing. So, I invited some people from there to come along. So yeah, just my network and their networks.
MJ: Are you looking to make INSTED an annual thing, or more frequently than that?
RH: Yeah. I want to do another big one in November. This one, we call it INSTED Agitate, you know, where we’re sort of like sizing things up, because we’re going to do a really big event in November where we’re going to have thousands of people, so. Yeah, and if that goes well, we’ll do it every year.
MB: Where’s the later one? Is that going to be in Los Angeles as well?
RH: No, we’re probably going to do that in San Francisco.
MJ: For people that are interested in keeping up with the INSTED schedule as far as not only this event but maybe the upcoming November event, where would they go to keep in the loop?
RH: If you go to INSTEDFest.com, you can check out the festival that we’re doing now on May 2nd, and if you go to “contact,” you can email us and get on our mailing list, and you can be updated about this INSTED and all the INSTEDs in the future.
MB: With the one that’s coming up, will I be able to go on the site and watch it afterwards?
RH: Yeah, we have a few filmmakers coming by, and they’re going to be posting everything to Vimeo, and we’re going to be doing a livestream. So yeah, we’re going to be livestreaming it the day of the conference and you’ll be able to check that out if you’re unable to make it in person.
MB: Very cool.
MJ: Do you plan on putting up more edited versions of, for example, the talks or some of the things that go on at the event itself later?
RH: Yeah. I mean, going by the TED model, where they put the TEDtalks online, we want to put the INSTEDtalks online. What I really want is for people to compare the INSTEDtalks to the TEDtalks and decide on their own what is better for them. Actually, there are people that are speaking at INSTED, like Robert Hanson, for example, who has also spoken at TEDx. So, we’re not really anti-TED in a way where we want to, like, kill TED, you know? It’s not like that. We want to encourage TED to do better, and we want to show all the people that attend TED and TEDx that there’s a lot more to the tech industry than this constant “save the world, global warming,” you know, the tech-solutionism that is so prominent right now, the utopian warship of gadgetry without any thought behind it. We want to take it up a notch, you know?
MJ: That sounds phenomenal to me. Have you, yourself, ever been to TED? I’m curious what your experience has been with TED or TEDx.
RH: I’ve been to TEDx in Long Beach. I honestly found it to be very anti-climactic. Everybody seemed to go by the same formula. It was like they didn’t really have any passion, they didn’t have any core. They were more about going by the script, going by a very planned, regimented model. It kind of upset me. Because I was so excited; I was like, “Yeah, I’m getting to go to TEDx!” and it was just a total letdown.
MJ: Do you think that was unique to the Long Beach one? Or is that something you see—I know there’s a bunch of the TEDx videos available—is that something you see in other TEDx’s as well?
RH: I’ve heard that some TEDx’s were great, and I’ve heard that some TEDx’s were even worse than the one that I went to. Since people throw TEDx’s all the time and anybody can throw one, you’re going to get everything.
MJ: Yeah, that kind of matches my experience. There’s actually a TEDx near where Matt and I live, and I’ve been to two of them now. Both of them have actually been pretty good. But after going, I was so pumped from the one that I went to that I had a good time at, that I started looking for others, and it turns out there are actually another three or four in the Chicago area. One of them was TEDxEvanston, and it had this whole procedure where you had to apply just to be a visitor. Not a speaker, but a visitor.
RH: That’s ridiculous. That’s something that I really want to address, is the whole exclusive status of a commodity, where people are being sold status. They’re not being sold any tangible product, they’re not being sold anything that’s even related to TED. They’re just being sold a status, and it’s not really a product. It’s not really anything; it’s an abstract social construct.
MJ: Matt, I think you might have tweeted it—some of the criticism of TED as an organization, that they’ve been so successful with putting some of the videos online, and the conference itself has gotten to be such a big deal. I think you alluded to this Rachel in just your pitch for INSTED, is it’s so expensive now, that really could your average person even go to it?
RH: No. It’s not affordable. And even if you can afford it, there’s still a huge process involved in being able to attend. It just doesn’t seem to be worth it to me anymore, or to very many other people. Especially where TED prides itself on being ultra-liberal, when the prices of their tickets are anything but.
MB: Yeah, the main TED thing, what is it, like $10,000 for the weekend or something?
RH: Something like that. It’s just ridiculous. You could buy a piece of land and start your own temporary autonomous zone with that.
MJ: Yeah, I think it was WIRED, I read a piece they did on the experience of going to TED, where they sent a writer to write about the whole experience. I found it really interesting to read his take on it, because he talked about how you see all these famous people in the various videos in the audience, like Bill Gates—he rattled a whole list of them and I don’t remember who all they were—but in his article, he described the experience of being there, and it was really almost two tiers. It sounded almost a little bit like scientology to me.
RH: [Laughs] There’s a cult-like element because the jargon that they speak in is very fake. They talk about accessing a model of sustainable consciousness to “betterize” and “optimize,” and it just sounds like a cult.
MJ: For INSTED, what do you want to see it develop into? Like, if it got to be the same level of success as TED, for example, what kinds of things would you want to do differently?
RH: The main thing for me is a bigger focus on merit and a bigger focus on results, less of a focus on who kisses whose asses, who is with the “in” group; just judging people’s startups and creations for what they actually are, not any of the media hoopla, not any of the journalism cliques, just this is what is actually there, and this is what people think about it. Because there’s just so much of a vetting process right now, where people won’t even check out somebody’s work if they haven’t gotten through the “council of the tech elders,” or whatever you want to call it. And what I want is for these people who haven’t gotten past this council of the tech elders to get their work out there, to be able to expose it to a larger audience of people, which I think they deserve. I meet so many brilliant people just with ideas that are mind-blowing and they have no access to the channels that would enable them to really get those ideas to take off.
MB: So, you’re looking at it more as a launch pad, as opposed to bringing in the people who have already been successful to talk about their success, as opposed to people who haven’t…?
RH: Yes. Yeah, I mean, we have a mixture of people that are involved in the TED circuit and people that have never even heard of TED, and really what we want is for everybody to talk to each other and gain new perspectives like that.
MB: Yeah, which I think would be great, because TED obviously has a lot of successful people who have already made it, but to me, it’s kind of cool learning about people who have an idea and are just starting to realize it.
RH: Definitely, and I think a lot of people in the TED community are sick of TED themselves. I mean, a friend of mine from New York whose name I won’t mention, she was recently at TED and she wrote me an email saying, “This was the most boring thing that I’ve ever attended, and I love the idea of INSTED, and I’d love to go.”
MB: Very cool. If the one in L.A. and then San Francisco are a success, do you view the goal as to roll them out to other cities?
RH: Yeah, other cities, other countries. I’d love to do an INSTED in France, I’d love to do one in Germany, I’d love to do one in Africa. I want to do as many INSTEDs as possible. It’s just a matter of building up and getting to that point.
MJ: Rachel, what’s the response been like so far? Obviously we connected with you on Twitter, and also to INSTED. It seems like—actually I noticed just today—one of our guests, Heather Schlegel was on with us a couple of weeks ago, and she just tweeted you guys out just today.
RH: That’s so funny. We were just talking through DMs. She was originally going to speak at INSTED, but she couldn’t make it because she had some other stuff going on. She’s going to be most likely speaking at the next one. I like what she does with the whole money debate, how she brings that to another level—the Future of Money, that’s how I discovered her, and yeah, I love her work. People like that, the really creative, intelligent people, are the ones that I want to get together.
MJ: Yeah, we had her on to talk that exact thing. She talked with us about both wearables and the Future of Money in our episode #159. So, is there anyone in particular of your speakers—I mean, I don’t want to make you choose favorites or anything—but that you’re really, really looking forward to yourself?
RH: Absolutely. I’d say Jon Schiefer is the one that comes to mind immediately because he just directed this hacker film called ALGORITHM, which is like a study of the whole hacker underground from a perspective that you really wouldn’t hear on the bigger media outlet sites. He got over a million views on Youtube, and he wasn’t picked up by any of the big companies, and somehow it just spread like crazy. So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to having him speak. He’s going to be doing a panel about the open internet, and the pros and the cons of having an internet that is open, and questioning whether it’s even open—like, is Google even the open internet that people think it is?
MJ: That sounds fascinating to me. I was just looking at him just a minute ago here. So, is that a documentary or is it actually more of a feature-length?
RH: Yeah, it’s actually a feature-length movie.
MB: Oh, I’ll have to check that out.
MJ: Yeah, definitely.
RH: Are you guys going to be able to come to the event, or are you guys going to be watching from the livestream?
MJ: I would say we’re probably going to have to watch from the livestream. [Laughs]
MB: Unfortunately we’re in Chicago, so.
RH: Eventually, I think when tech gets to a certain point—if I can get transhumanist for a moment—I think we’re going to be able to participate to such an extent that participating digitally will be possibly more than being there physically. You know, like after nanotech develops beyond a certain point? I’m thinking something like Second Life, but a million times better. I actually call this a “digital autonomous zone,” like a digital nation, a digital creative space where people are ultra dimensional. It’s pretty sci fi when you think about it in that sense, but sci fi becomes reality after a certain point.
MJ: Yeah, we talk a lot about VR and its ability to connect people over distances. One of the recurring themes in our conversations on it is once it really gets good, the idea of going to the movie theater locally, a physical space, it seems like that’s going to die pretty quickly, because I’d much rather go with friends or people that I know, whether they’re all distributed over the entire world versus only the people that can get to me nearby geographically.
RH: Definitely, and especially in cities where there isn’t a very big tech industry, where people that work in tech have all their friends on the internet, and everybody all flies to Austin for SXSW and it’d be a yearly thing. But when we get to the point where we don’t need to do that, where everybody can effectively communicate with each other in the digital realm to a level that is better than the physical realm… We’re obviously not there yet. I think we will be, but right now we’ve got a ways to go. People are so into hyping the idea of digital conferences, which is interesting. But right now, I don’t think tech is at the point where we can say that a digital conference is better than a physical one. The connections really aren’t the same. It’s meeting people in person that you’ve known online for years, and really getting to interact with them on a physical level—that, for me, is what is so interesting about these types of events.
MJ: Yeah, I think there is something still that’s missing in that digital space. Or even, I know at work and stuff, I’ve worked with remote teams for a number of years that I worked at AT&T, and the last boss I had there, I actually never met him in person.
RH: Yeah, that’s so common now. You don’t even know what your boss looks like a lot of the time.
MJ: Yeah, I finally saw a picture of him on LinkedIn after I quite.
RH: [Laughs] That’s funny.
MJ: Okay. Rachel, thanks so much for joining us.
RH: Yeah, yeah, it’s been a pleasure talking to the Robot Overlordz, and I hope that you dominate the world soon!
MB: [Laughs] Thank you.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.