There Are No Silly Tweets: Jeff Pulver's 140 Characters Conference New York
By Calvin Reid
The 140 Characters Conference, internet entrepreneur Jeff Pulver’s free-wheeling presentation of the endless ways that Twitter and social media are transforming contemporary life, returned to New York’s 92nd Street Y, June 15-16, with its usual frenzied combination of visionary social transformation and no-nonsense marketing strategies. Among the many and varied presenters this year were Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, N.J.; Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley and Ian J. Spector, the web entreprenuer, cognitive neuroscientist, and author, who wrote a series of books based on hilarious fake facts about actor Chuck Norris that have sold millions of copies.
Like Twitter itself, the 140 Characters Conference offers a succession of nugget-size informational packets—in this case short presentations by entrepreneurs, social activists, teachers, business people, celebrities and politicians; really almost anyone—all giving testimony to the wave of social change wrought by Twitter and social media in general. Presenters have 10 minutes (panels sometimes get 15 minutes and the beginnings of “Exodus” is played when presenters go on too long) to share their experiences and show how social media has provided new opportunities for fulfilling dreams or enabled them to connect with like-minded individuals they would have never been able to meet otherwise. Jeff Pulver (at Podium) introduces the teachers panel at the 140 Characters Conference in New York.Something of an internet prodigy, Pulver cofounded Vonage, the voice over internet protocal telephone services provider, long before he launched the140 Characters Conferences as a kind of traveling carnival of Twitter phenomena , presenting these conferences in cities all around the country. Pulver is a big dude, both physically and emotionally, and PW (like everyone he greets) got a big hug from him when we introduced ourselves. Pulver peppers his conversation with words like “disruption,” and “disintermediation,” and it can be difficult to resist his very well documented spiel on all the ways that Twitter has brought disparate people together to create something new, whether its bringing attention to the homeless, selling low-sodium meals, helping the IRS (@JAOrquina and @IRSNews) serve taxpapers or working to end corporal punishment (designer @MarcEcko’s Unlimited Justice movement) in public schools. Although we missed Booker’s presention, PW arrived in time to hear Krupali Tejura (@Krupali), a radiation oncologist, who told a heart-rending story of blogging and Tweeting about a terminal cancer patient’s desperate hope to live long enough to make it to her wedding anniversary and see a concert by a favorite classical musician. Thanks to Twitter, the musician, the Dutch violinist Andre Rieu, I believe, heard about her plight, contacted Tejura and provided VIP tickets and backstage access to the patient who indeed managed to live and see the concert. “Twitter is amazing,” she said, “The world is listening, it cares and it wants to help.”
Reaching out to get or give help is always a theme at the 140 conferences, especially in education. Presentations by Kim Sivick (@ksivick), a Philadephia k-12 teacher, outlined a typically inspirational story of using Twitter and blogging to connect with a dirt-poor rural village in Uganda. Sivick eventually visited the village herself, bonding with the teachers and the students and provided the village computer teacher with both a new computer and a real connection to her and to the students in her classes. Much like at last year’s 140 conference, Twitter’s ability to get students involved in class projects as well as help educators communicate across states, cities and countries, continues to impress. Hadley Fergusson (@Hadleyif), a middle school history teacher, uses Twitter and Skype to connect her students studying Japanese culture to a Japanese Buddhist priest, while New Jersey teacher Patrick Higgins (@pjhiggins) said, “there are so many way to use social media to turn your students into real apprentices. If you’re studying astronauts, then you can use Twitter to actually talk to one.” And fairly charismatic Syracuse University professor Anthony Rotolo (@rotolo) presented “college in real-time,” and showed how he turned his class in information science into twitter-driven course with a following far beyond Syracuse. “All devices are allowed in my class,” he said, “any technology the students want. Twitter is always on a big screen in the class and the class (#rotoloclass) has a big following on twitter. Twitter increases student engagement.”