Interesting New York 2008

by Sebastian Benthall

Friend and colleague Rolando Penate was looking for people to accompany him to today’s Interesting New York event. I took him up on it after briefly skimming the list of speakers, otherwise having no idea what to expect.

It did not disappoint. It was a very interesting, if slightly grueling (twenty eight “short” presentations add up to a lot.) I’m still not sure what exactly it was that I witnessed for the whole day.

The first interesting feature was that event was held at the Fashion Institute of Technology‘s Katie Murphy Amphitheater. Finding myself within the walls of F.I.T. was a small surprise in itself. As it turned out, there was only one talk about fashion, in which an elegantly attired Jennifer Wright, “a freelance writer for a variety of luxury lifestyle publications,” argued that Karl Lagerfeld is a robot. Instead, the audience and speakers appear to be primarily made up of high-tech advertising people and communications consultants. Picking somebody from the speakers’ list at random, the odds are you’d get somebody who would be great at perfecting your digital brand.

This didn’t make me feel any more at home. I tend to view luxury lifestyle as a waste of precious resources; but I have deep suspicions towards all advertising as a source of socially disastrous “false needs.”

But despite all, there was an impressive showing of and expressed interest in social entrepreneurship and even personal stories of disciplined consumption. I was very pleased that this antithesis was brought to light by Gaurav Mishra‘s inspiring talk on being “The Marketer Who Went Off Consumption.” He explained that as a successful marketing guy in India, he saw that there were growing anti-consumerist trends in the marketplace. Marketing people, he admitted, should be terrified by this. He himself dealt with it by given up all his unnecessary possessions and changing careers to academic research and social entrepreneurship.

The majority of talks, however, were completely from left field. Some examples:

  • The guy who sat in front of me for the first section who I had uncharitably pegged as a generic hipster turned out to be Morgan Friedman, the creator of Overheard in New York. He gave an energetic talk about how to enjoy wandering in a foreign or unknown city.
  • The marketing director of a software consultancy expressed her appreciation of Jane Eyre and made me want to read it.
  • A Jungian, dream interpreting psychoanalyst (who was also a “consumer researcher”) explained how to get meaning out of your dreams.
  • A cute communications strategist performed a mind-blowing interview with some guy who Twitters as a Mad Men fan fiction character. The interviewee was in character for the performance, and managed to describe his fan fiction community entirely through metaphorical references to his (fictional) company, Sterling Cooper.

I’d recommend going to see it if it happens again next year and you’re free for it.

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