All the buzz out of Zeitgeist was that Google gave a bunch of people some great geek schwag.Yes, Google has money, and Zeitgeist schwag is vaguely reminiscent of Oscars’ schwag bags. I couldn’t have accepted the gifts even if I hadn’t left before they were handed out, but even so they were far from highlighting the event. Sadly for us journalists, everything at the conference starts out off-the-record. But given what’s gone up online at Google’s own Zeitgeist page, I would’ve thought we’d see something headier by now, a week afterwards. For instance, now publicly available at the Zeitgeist site is a session with former World Bank chieftain Jim Wolfensohn and Nouriel “I called the crash” Roubini. In this session is their discussion of the failure of both American-style laissez-faire capitalism and European-style social capitalism. What was remarkable to me about this statement is not that it got pronounced — it was a common comment in 2008 and 2009 — but that it didn’t get attacked. That a largely Western corporate crowd didn’t openly challenge an assertion that Western capitalism has failed says something important. (Granted, my mind was in part on the session I was preparing to emcee, so maybe I missed some rebuttal. If such occurred, it wasn’t with guns blazing.)
Overall, I found the conference was that rare event that got my adrenaline flowing. There were a few too many people wearing blazers for a self-proclaimed casual event (including a lot of Googlers). But really good approaches to the concept of change, fun ’surprise’ speakers, like professional origamist Robert Lang (his presentation is also up on the Zeitgeist site), and eclectic points of view. The session I emceed was called Catalyst. When people become catalysts, they’re brooking authorities of their day and place, making something new happen, revealing truths, righting wrongs, setting others on new paths. Tugging against entropy is not unique to humans, but the way we pursue it is unique, and how we pursuit it appeals to me strongly as a writer and a person. I found it wonderful to be amongst these catalysts, who remain nameless in part because I’m not sure who was on the record, and provocative.
Based on what I saw this year, if you ever get invited to Zeitgeist, go. And make sure not to leave early!