Mind-Control, Conscious Consumption, and Big Data: Caught in the mesh 2012 Conference

Mesh consists of semi-permeable barrier made of connected strands of metal, fiber, or other flexible/ductile material. Mesh is similar to web or net in that it has many attached or woven strands.

The mesh conference is a must-attend conference for tech people in the GTA who don’t have the budget to attend the TED conferences. mesh looks to provide a platform for people to explore the latest trends in society, technology, and emerging business models across a number of disciplines. The audience is as diverse the presenters. If you are looking for a place to network, and want to get to know the tech scene in Ontario, then I highly recommend this conference.

I attended day one of the conference, and by the end I was pretty glad day two was going to be covered by a co-worker. Like a lot of conferences, mesh is an exhausting whirlwind of ideas that take time to digest.

Managing Life in a Chaotic World via Data

DJ Patil, a data scientist, gave an enjoyable and enlightening presentation about one of the biggest trending topics in the tech scene this year—Big Data. It is one thing to have huge data sets, but it is another to know what the data is telling you. Big data needs a story, a conversation, and Patil has a great big-data conversational style.

During Patil’s talk he spun his “double pendulum,” clamped to the edge of the podium: a visual to help us understand when things are chaotic and when they’re not. The audience was told to clap when they thought the pendulum would stop folding in on itself—and that thing swung more crazily than a barrel full of monkeys.

He then talked the audience through some of his case studies, one of which indicated that people who own iPhones have more sex than people who own Androids, and Android owners have more sex than Blackberry users. (There was no mention, however, of the multi-device owner, and certainly no mention of dedicated ebook device owners.) Big Data is sexy!

Conscious Consumption with the Information Diet. 

Next Clay Johnson took us through his ideas around our current state of information consumption. Clay is the author of Information Diet, in which he compares our information diet to that of the North American fast food diet. From what I could tell, his insight that pizza tastes better than broccoli; and opinion is easier to consume than fact, gets the award for most retweets of the day. Clay also used big data to back up his observations, and then moved on to prescribe a strategy to avoid a junk food diet of infotainment.

His advice to start your day as a producer not a consumer stuck with me. His advice: don’t use your smartphone as an alarm clock; as soon as you wake up you will start looking at your email, twitter feed, news feeds—and away you go into your day of consumption.


After the two keynotes, we moved into something referred to as vignettes. These were shorter presentations followed by short interviews with the presenters and audience Q and A sessions. This was a tweaking of the mesh format from previous years; instead of breaking us out into tracks, they kept us all in the theatre with the lights down low. This worked for me.

One of the vignettes was provided by Robin Goldburg of blurb.com. I was surprised to hear from Blurb, who has been around for 7 years now, and was one of the early service providers for people who wanted to make books à la Lulu. This is hardly the bleeding edge of publishing, and I think the high-brow belief that putting content between covers somehow makes it more valuable fell on skeptical ears in an audience filled with web designers and marketers.

Probably my favourite take away from the day came from an interview with a so-called Invention Ambassador. Quirky is like Edison Nation but with more pluck and enthusiasm. They are like a KickStarter for enabling the whole product creation, rather than just raising funds.

The interviewee was a smart, well spoken 24 year old who developed a new design for a power strip with Quirky. He walked us through the process that he experienced, from concept, to prototype, to finished product with placement in all kinds of retail outlets. The Quirky team will help you develop your invention ideas into finished products that they will then market for you. It is really quite a fantastic notion.

And finally, one of the coolest concepts/products was the one presented by Ariel Garten, the CEO and co-founder of InteraXon. InteraXon is working towards creating a smart home that is controlled by brain waves. You may have read a recent New York Times article about a paralyzed woman who can control a robot arm with her brain to help her eat and drink. Well this is that at a consumer level.

Perhaps now is the time that publishers should be looking beyond their ebook strategies, and start thinking about the day people can just download information directly to their cortex. (See above.)