Reflections on Northern Voice 2008

I'm not going to post a conference recap, and others have beaten me to the punch with eloquent reflections on the event. It's one of those things that sounds like fanaticism - the sense of wonder usually reserved for such things as the TED conference (aside: could you imagine going to that? how many toes would I gladly trade for a TED pass?) But, Northern Voice has become, or has always been, one of those events that help me form my own thinking, and helps to connect that with the awesome stuff that the really great minds (that I am lucky enough to be allowed to tag along with) are doing.

Jim hit the nail on the head, for me, in his description of the role of the Mythical Eduglu. It's not about any particular implementation, or even about the concepts and strategies that make up EduGlu. The power of EduGlu, according to The Reverend, is as a Hitchcockian McGuffin. It's a plot device that moves the story along, giving a sense of narrative focus and momentum.

And that, for me, is the real power of Northern Voice. It's not about the conference (as cool as the conference is) and it's not purely about the people (as amazing, cool, and open as the people are). Northern Voice is a McGuffin. And for 2 days or so, every year, we are able to work together to peer into the suitcase. That shared sense of purpose and momentum colours the entire event - the conference sessions, the openness of the people, and the emotional intensity of the whole thing.

So, if it takes the guise of a conference to push the story along, to have everyone from a stunningly broad range of backgrounds and perspectives come together as one, however briefly, I think it's well worth being part of the experience.

aside: my wife's family tree includes Alfred Hitchcock, so I like this McGuffin analogy on a bunch of levels

One thing that struck me, when reviewing the photos that I took during Northern Voice, was that the most powerful and meaningful ones weren't taken during the sessions per se, but in the social gatherings. The magic of Northern Voice isn't part of the conference itself, although it is definitely fed and inspired by the conference. The real magic is in the deeply intimate connections between the people who gather. And one of the amazing things about the particular group that I am so lucky to consider myself a part of - every one of this group met online first. Several only met IRL at the conference. And yet we are all friends, and there was no ramp-up time required, or introductions needed. We all knew each other, and were able to hit the ground running, as it were.

There is a bit of rabid fanboy that bubbles up within me before, during, and after the event. I can't fracking believe I'm lucky enough to be able to hang out with these people, and to discuss in depth the things that really matter (and a bunch of stuff that's just plain fun, too).

If I had to pick a single photograph that represents Northern Voice, it is this one because it somehow captures the energy, the intimacy, and the vibrancy of the conversations. The unreserved laughter of The Reverend. The energetic groove of Scott. Mikhail joining in as though we've known him for years - even though this was the first time most of us actually met him. And the piercing calm of Chris, the poet. In the warm, safe, inviting home offered to us by Brian and Keira.

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With that said, I am absolutely thrilled at how the entire Northern Voice 2008 photo set turned out. There's something about the event that causes us all to draw on our strengths, playing our own instrument in the jam session. Mine just happened to be a camera :-)

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