It’s taken a day to decide if the venue for Campaign Tech West was tawdry, ineffable or inspired. I’m leaning to ineffable. Across the street from the Naked Lunch restaurant, near the triangle of Broadway, Columbus and Grant. Nearby, what the Chinese call “Ahdalah Hong” the short walkway that formerly bore the name “Adler Place”. In recent years, it has been dubbed “Kerouac Alley”, in honor of the beat denizen who frequented the City Lights Bookstore on the corner.
One wonders what Kerouac would have thought of the gathering of political techies on the street where he composed his “spontaneous prose.” He thought editing robbed prose of being in the moment, and thus somehow dishonest. Had he been around to witness the billions of “moments” enshrined in tweets and posts today, perhaps, he would have been less opposed to such dishonesty.
Kerouac’s spontaneity was arresting in his time, and not always appreciated (“That’s not writing, that’s typing,” said Capote). Yet, Kerouac thought before he wrote, which immediately distinguishes him from our own often too-connected world. I thought about his roman à clef style and tried to imagine Kerouac blogging. I suppressed the impulse to raise that question among Tuesday’s gifted tech panelists, or when visiting Google and Facebook’s respective HQ’s on Monday.
It would have been hard to watch Kerouac die, 144 characters at a time. From Rome to Zen and back to Rome again. From leftie beat poet to cantankerous conspiracy theorist, one suspects the journey would have been difficult to watch, if only in one’s newsfeed. Spurning the “communists” who stole the beat’s movement, Kerouac would die surrounded by a stack of old National Review magazines. Once visited by some young neo-Nazis, he ran them off. ”I told ’em I was a pacifist,” Jack said, ”and that I had a gun in the other room. I also told ’em I helped defend this country from people like them and that I’d do it again. They didn’t stay around.” The unedited pacifist, gun in hand.
But back to the conference. OK, maybe ineffable is a little too strong, but there was a certain mad inspiration about the conference location that I didn’t, at first, appreciate. There were also some seriously smart people presenting, not the least of which was the barely containable Benny Johnson from Buzzfeed, who shared the stage with Facebook’s Katie Harbath, ePolitics‘ Colin Frazier and Julie Samuels. Julie is staff attorney to the (and I’m not making this up) Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents, Electronic Frontier Foundation. This was one of those panels where the synergy among very smart people worked, and no one could have left the room without several great new ideas.
Of course, I loved the dance of the scorpions, with Clear Channel’s Nathan Daschle squaring off against Pandora’s Sean Duggan over the future of radio. It was a good reminder that it is not simply a new tech against new tech, but that Pandora, iTunes Radio and out-out-damn-Spotify have legitimate competition from traditional radio. (Sorry, but I am prejudiced against Spotify because it took me 15 or 20 attempts to finally unsubscribe from their mind-numbing barrage of emails.)
All in all, kudos to Campaign and Elections Magazine for recognizing that the center of technological progress is on the Left Coast. A good first foray into our backyard. For those who didn’t make the trip to California this time, the American Association of Political Consultants annual conference is slated for April 2-4 in San Diego.