Beach, sun, technology and philosophy

Matthew Desmier, host of Silicon Beach. Image credit: Paul Clarke Photography
Matthew Desmier, host of Silicon Beach. Image credit: Paul Clarke Photography

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at Silicon Beach 2015, a conference for curious people in marketing and advertising, that took place in the lovely seaside town of Bournemouth. I hadn’t been there before and with the sun making a welcome appearance along with some very thought-provoking talks, it was a good 2 days indeed.

Chris Thorpe, who used to the CTO of Moshi Monsters and is now the founder of I Can Make, a 3D printing education startup, gave a really inspiring talk about how they are looking to engage with schools across the UK. They have done a lot of beta testing and are launching a subscription service where schools get monthly lessons on how to engage their students with 3D printing, later this month – so keep an eye out for it!

Tracey Follows, ex-Chief Strategy Officer of JWT and founder of the futurism consultancy Any Day Now gave a really eloquent talk on why technology isn’t the future; it’s going to be important but it’s not the whole of what we should be thinking about. Also interesting was her point that instead of focussing on one ‘probable’ future (usually science fiction-oriented), we should be talking about the many ‘possible’ futures, in the multiple.

Mark Adams, Head of Innovation at Vice, showcased the breadth of what Vice do. I loved what he said about cat videos: ‘making cat videos is not a business, it’s a hobby’. He also made a useful point about the importance of brands earning the trust of their audience, by having a strong point of view that isn’t just about the latest, newest thing. His parting message focussed on the importance of finding interesting ways of telling human stories; brand messages aren’t always interesting but people will always have time to read about stories that feature people or things they can relate to as humans.

Venture capitalist Niklas Bergman honestly admitted to passing on Spotify as an investment opportunity as he talked about his vision for the future (yes they involved robots).

Dan Machen, Director of Innovation at HeyHuman, reprised the talk he did with colleague Felix Morgan at both Cannes and SXSW earlier this year to much acclaim. It was about an experiment they conducted that wanted to see how the brain’s shape and attention changed as a result of the constant attack of media, steadily increasing over the last few years. I liked what he said about multi-tasking, a term that has origins in computers being able to do parallel processing; however humans are not computers and yet we insist on saying we can multi-task as if it’s something to be proud of. It really made me think – there’s a tremendous cost to switching our attention from our phone to our laptop and back to our phone, for example, and yet people do that as a matter of course these days, hundreds of times a day in some cases. There is a cost to this, with our brains less and less able to adjust to the task at hand the more we are distracted.

Louisa Heinrich, founder of Superhuman, gave a talk that combined religion and technology in an unusual analogy. She mentioned atheists and agnostics, and their attitude towards religion on the one hand, and humans’ blind faith in computers in the other. We need to think about the impact of our choices in our lives, she said, and not leave everything to computers. ‘Computer doesn’t always know best’.

Rina Atienza is moving to the Philippines in a couple of months, and her talk wove the popular boardgame Settlers of Catan into a journey through her life, to where she is today and what has motivated her to want to move abroad and try and make a difference there. Very inspiring – I’m sure more than one person started examining their own lives after that!

Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director at BBH, listed nine No’s of Innovation. He mentioned how too often innovation is about saying yes to everything, but some things you really need to avoid.

Amy Kean, Head of Futures at Havas, gave a very future-facing talk about ‘dreamvertising’ – she postulated that there might be a time when people will choose to access advertising in their dreams, which, if we go by what we know of how the brain works during sleep, might actually be more impactful for brands. This is in return for not being shoved ads when we are awake, of course! Disturbing and yet I strangely enjoyed it – I don’t know what that says about me!

James Caig, Head of Strategy at True Digital, ended the conference (‘I’m the headliner’, he said tongue-in-cheek) as he compared his life in London to his new life in Bristol, where he now lives.

The talks I haven’t mentioned were all equally entertaining to listen to (I just don’t have good enough notes for them!). There were lessons for us advertising people in every session – life lessons, work lessons, humanity lessons. Hats off to Matthew Desmier and the team at Silicon Beach for pulling such a good event off – and drawing people to sunny Bournemouth. I highly recommend it for next year!

Here’s my talk, on personalisation in media:

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