This week I had the great privilege of attending @CampusPartyEurope: five days of frenetic gaming, hacking, coding and robotics hosted at London’s O2 by Telefonica. I’d like to point out (at least to my much better qualified sibling and brother-in-law), that I wasn’t actually doing anything remotely technical myself. My days of laboriously hand-coding anything are long past, and even at my best I managed nothing more complicated than HTML 2.0 and a bit of PERL. But I did get the opportunity to catch the awesome @mitchellbaker from the Mozilla Foundation talking about the importance of open standards in building the future of the mobile internet.
There are so many things I loved about her presentation that I almost don’t know where to start. She spoke passionately and clearly about Mozilla’s vision to make the mobile web a place where open standards mean that access to creation and control is available to all. That in an open world – where there is no corporate cartel of intellectual property rights to the technology of transmission – anyone with creativity, content and the vision to offer services that users might want to engage with, can offer those services freely, and free at the point of consumption (if they wish). She talked about the opportunities of freely accessible content and services fuelling socio-political change and financial opportunity in an economy of intelligence. She had a bitchin’ haircut and a laconic, but compelling delivery style. She was a bona-fide, copper-bottomed (or more accurately, copper-topped) female God of Tech, without ever once referring to her gender.
But what was best was, when it came to Q&A, there were no pat answers. There were no pre-prepared, PR-checked, opinion-scored responses. She listened to the questions, and then she thought about them. She took, at minimum, 30 seconds to think about her responses to every single question. Have you any idea how long 30 seconds feels when you are standing on a stage in front of 200 people? It’s an eternity. The natural impulse is to fill that time with verbal padding – with “Oh, that’s a good question, I’m glad you asked that, hmmm now, what do I think about….”. But there was none of that. Just a pause, while the enormous cognitive power she so obviously brings to the table chunked through some high level analysis of the answer she wanted to give, assessed the room, assessed the impact of her words, and then she spoke.
She didn’t pull her punches – where she felt her answer couldn’t get powerfully to the root of the question she admitted her incapacity – she answered questions about the ability of the open-source movement to affect political change, she talked about vested interests and political lobbying, she talked about protectionism and economic policy and jobs and Schumpeter (though she didn’t call it that), she acknowledged the benefits of corporate capitalism, consumption and the limitations of the new tech establishment in being able to drive a diversity agenda. But more than anything she engaged with her audience as equals, as fellow-travellers and as grown-ups.
As must be entirely obvious by now, I’m completely smitten. I am a Mitchell Baker groupie. Even though there are things about her take on the world that I want to challenge – it’s mostly because I think she’d be an amazingly interesting lady to have a conversation with. Here’s hoping I get the chance one day….