Ignite Portland 4,
which took place last night, Thursday, November 14, is a free event, but nonetheless you need a ticket to get in. I had nearly forgotten mine, and so was pushing hard against the 6:15 deadline, at which point they were going to give my ticket away to the hundred-thick throng of hopefuls waiting at the door of the Bagdad Theater. As it turns out, all 550 available tickets had been claimed within four hours of being made available on a balmy Monday morning—it was pretty much like a Styx show circa 1978.
Except it wasn't a rock show. It was a set of slide presentations.
Very popular slide presentations, each one limited to exactly five minutes, 20 slides, and precisely 15 seconds a slide. It's kissing cousins, then, with the architecture/design world's Pecha Kucha showcases, which generously allow their presenters five more seconds per slide. But in this case, Ignite was birthed from the tech and blogging communities, who, as it goes, actually tend to act like a community. As a group, they tend to care genuinely about what everybody else is doing and thinking and saying, believe that rising tides lift all ships, and act out their liberal guilt in hearteningly wholesome ways: for example, by giving presentations on how to make healthy, fresh, local cuisine using the same method (seasonals, neutrals, accessories) that '70s kid-clothes phenom Garanimals used to help kids pick out an outfit. It was maybe the sunniest version of urban food angst I'd ever seen, and while I don't want to live in that kind of fear, I definitely want to eat at presenter Katherine Gray's house.
Of course, community spirit does have a dark side—while conferring quietly about the details of the presentations with a companion, I was loudly shouted down by an angry man in a brimmed hat adorned with an inexplicable Betty-rubble sash, who has promised to write a letter to the editor stating that I didn't listen enough. Shooshers never seem to notice that they are always louder and much more distracting than the people they're shooshing, but I suppose his heart was in the right place. The audience was, in general, one of the most appreciative I've seen. That's the thing about geeks: when they like something, they show it.
So there were loud laughter and cheers during Jeff Hardison's opening presentation on "Five things Portland can learn from Kentucky"
(Hardison had moved here, he said, on the steam of a Clinton-era federally funded program designed to teach the West about the South), which was one of the strongest of the night. Basic takeaway advice: it's OK to disagree with people. You can still be friends afterward. You don't have to quietly, passive-aggressively resent them for the rest of your life because they voted for McCain or Hillary or that kooky, charismatic libertarian. We promise. Even in Portland, it's OK to disagree. Also: watch out for Hardison's Uncle Clint. Also: we need more things named after our city if we want to ever get as famous as, say, Bourbon County. We can't coast forever on fawning articles in the New York Times
, no matter how tingly it makes us when they say those wonderful things.
Another highlight was Eric Anderson's surprisingly useful iceberg theory about how to look impressive:
memorize three stats and three quotes, talk up "Greek shit" (which scares and awes the hell out of everybody), and always do everything in threes so that the middle alternative looks reasonable when it might otherwise have seemed extreme. This way, people will assume that the small amount of things that you do know is merely the stuff above the water, and that you have hidden reserves of untapped expertise, some special and secret genius.
Equally useful was karaoke advice from aficionado Alex Williams,
who teamed up with taste and decency and class to entreat the world to stop singing karaoke in groups ("no mic, no relevance"), not to rap unless you know all the words, and to never, ever sing a song you wouldn't drop at a party. I'm talking to you, Bobby McGee. I'm talking to you, and I'm telling you it's over. You're boring.
The whole affair lasted about three hours, long enough to get everyone a bit rosy about the cheeks, basking in the afterglow of a collective handshake that maybe went a bit south of the border, even, for a little squeeze. Maybe some backscratching besides, some bartered massages, amateur acupuncture. They all really like each other, I'm saying. And why not?