Events and The Like

An Outsider’s Take on Ignite Philly 12

Everybody seemed to know everybody, but nobody knew me. It’s strange being the outsider; I’m still getting used to it. You can slip in and out unnoticed, overhearing odd and wonderful things. I recommend, at least once, going somewhere you know no one. Stick around, observe. It’s uncomfortable and overwhelming.

I got my ticket to Ignite Philly not knowing what the event was about. The site itself doesn’t seem to know what the event is about. (This is why designers need to work with copywriters more. Messaging matters.) Still, I was here. I was ready. Wasn’t I?

The first speaker, a blind man named Austin, had everyone close their eyes. In a crowded bar. I did it, but found it challenging. What’s that say about me? Probably that I like seeing stuff.

He took us through a normal day for him, playing the audio of passing cars, doors that creak and the rushed, robotic tones of a screen reader’s voice. I thought about myself taking SEPTA without full vision and took another drink instead.

The thoughtful, fascinating speeches marched on. And since each speech was only five minutes long, it was a speed-march. Emma reminded everyone to eat liberally and appreciate your surroundings. David defined civic innovation as Ben Franklin 101. He also spoke of improving the city’s gravitational pull so more people would move here.

I guess that’s me. Chicago, the hometown I’ll never stop loving, is not nearly so organized, so community-centric. Philly is all people, food, parks and passion.

Next up: the man who attempted to explain parametric modeling and its societal applications in five minutes’ time. Ambitious. After him was the teacher who stated, “We have very high standards where students have to make a robot.” Equally ambitious.

After this talk, the whole bar FaceTimed with someone named Alex. Huh? Was I supposed to know who Alex was? Did the organizers not consider that not everyone knew Alex? That this wasn’t a slumber party among friends? Or maybe it was and I forgot my PJs. Anything seemed likely at Ignite Philly.

Case in point: Pop Pop, or rather a man pretending to be his grandfather, spoke next. From what I could tell, he was very proud of his grandson.  Jason Fagone, author of Ingenious, called all cars couches and showcased the more fuel-efficient designs of some scrappy, inventive Americans. He was inspiring; as he left the stage, I felt a strong urge to build a car.

Chris Wink presented life hacks for Philadelphians and spoke faster than anyone else. Well done, sir. He proposed we do away with talk on the basic Philly icons—cheesesteaks, Rocky and santa snowballs. I agree. This was all my Chicago friends and co-workers knew of Philly. How Philly became so under-the-radar, so dumbed down is a wonder.

The last few presenters were a blur. An encouraging mom, a fast and filthy-minded ASL signer, a dad raising kids in the city (awesome, thank you), designers of a game about death, a taxidermist who sometimes slaughters rabbits for stew and the co-founder of a civic engagement texting program.

The final speaker was a man eager to improve everything Camden, New Jersey. He said cities that engage people thrive and those that isolate people, die.

While they could also be described as drunk, I think the people at Ignite Philly were well-engaged. I know I was.

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