Held at New York’s 92nd Street Y from June 15-16, the 140 Characters Conference featured speakers from all over the digital landscape giving bite-size 10-minute talks (in the spirit of Twitter’s 140 character short info-blasts) on social media, or “The State of Now.” From world-famous icons like Deepak Chopra to little-known Nebraska farmers, all presenters managed to fit into the theme of the conference and offer unique takes on Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps and what they all mean to the world.
Here are some highlights and our picks for the best speakers:
• The Lupus Ladies of Twitter. Far and away, this segment encapsulated everything the conference tries to convey as well as exemplifying the potential of Twitter. Three young women, all with Lupus, took the stage to discuss their condition, how Twitter and social media brought them together, and how they’re using these tools to make a difference. Brenda Blackmon, co-anchor of My9 WWOR-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast, whose daughter Kelly suffers from Lupus and was on the panel, told emotional stories about Kelly’s fight, and the difference the Internet has made in spreading the word. This was real life stuff, and it resonated.
• Sesame Street. Sesame Street has always done a great job in creating smart content for both adults and their children, and the same is true for their forays into social media. Hearing Dan Lewis, Director of New Media Communications at Sesame Workshop, discuss how they achieve this balance was fascinating. A prime example: this haiku from Cookie Monster, released as a Tweet and as a viral video. Ironic and smart enough for any English major, as well as educational and just plain funny enough for the 5-year-old in all of us.
• Cody Heitschmidt, VP Biz Dev, LogicMaze. In discussing the impact of Twitter and social media on small towns, Cody brought a very honest and down-to-earth feeling to the conference. There was no speak of using Twitter to reach customers, grow a brand or whatever. Instead, Cody talked about how being from a small town, he just was not exposed to different kinds of people or modes of thought, and Twitter has helped remedy this by expanding his world. It spoke to an inherent truth about the good side of social media, which is that it can bring open-minded people together, who would otherwise never meet.
• Deepak Chopra. Appearing live via Skype, Chopra gave an impassioned speech on how social media is building “new neural networks for a planetary mind.” It’s connecting us and creating a new consciousness. What we do with that consciousness and with that power — whether to create good or to waste it on nothing but entertainment — is up to us.
• Middle School MicroInterns and NY Startups. A group of 7th graders took the stage and performed a play about the role social media has in our lives, and it killed, garnering laughs and offering real insight. But the best part was the Q&A with the students that followed, where they revealed just how deep a grasp young people have of the technology and what it means to properly use it. When asked about how to use Facebook without getting in trouble, one student simply replied, “Be appropriate.” If only certain Congressmen were this smart…