The Land of the Free

I had a little talk with Scarborough Dude last night.

It’s sort of a biannual thing, my little talks with the Dude. It usually revolves around a Podcamp, some coffee or a beer. It always makes me want to write. He’s a wise man.

Last night’s talk took place in a loud, boisterous room filled with laughter and music. It was the Saturday night Podcamp Toronto social bash, an event that infuses the “social” in social media, brings online friends together in an offline way and adds a new dimension to already strong bonds.

The Dude and I surveyed the scene before us, taking in the moment. The Dude leaned over to me and said, “Can you feel it? Can you feel the vibe of this place? That’s what this is all about. People being free.”

I thought about that for a minute, the same way I think about most things the Dude says. And then I realized some things.

It starts with the environment. It has just dawned on me, after attending a total of 8 un-conferences (does that make me a veteran?) why the format of these events is so genius. It’s free. Not  just free, in the monetary sense. The entire concept is one of freedom. It doesn’t matter who I am, where I come from, how old I am, what I know or don’t know, how I dress, how much money I have, or what colour my hair is. I can decide I want to share something, and in one click I can become part of the event. I am free to tell my story and start a conversation around it. Others are free to join that conversation. The fundamental point of an un-conference is freedom of expression. And when there is total freedom of expression in an environment, amazing things start to happen.

Anyone can be a rock star. It’s common knowledge that at unconference events, everyone gets a chance. The playing field is completely leveled. Noobs hang out with A-listers. PR pros party with podcasters. Students mingle with CEOs. It happens because everyone that walks in the door is automatically given rock star status. The rule is that judgement and egos are to be left at the door, and all people are given equal freedom to express and connect. When this starts to happen, when it’s really working, it becomes what the Dude calls “The Vibe”.

Authenticity is an amazing thing. It’s a common misconception that New Media Un-conferences are about technology…that in order to get anything out of it you’ve got to be a tech geek of some sort. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, these are not technology events at all. They are human events. And because they are human events, they require one thing that enables freedom. They require the humans to be 100% real. Fortunately for this community, that realness comes quite naturally. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.

The medium IS the message. There are Bloggers, podcasters, Tweeters, Facebook status updaters, and media-makers of all kinds. We all tell different stories, stories that are unique to who we are. That’s a beautiful thing. But what is most fascinating isthat new media gives everyone the power to freely express themselves in their chosen format. Because of this inherent fact, we have inadvertently created a culture of freedom. When new media-makers converge in a single space, such as an un-conference, we  are already free, because we’ve been so good at expressing ourselves till now. When we get together in person, that sense of freedom proliferates at a rapid rate through the room. Our culture of freedom means we come into the space already accepting each other and respecting each person’s individuality and authenticity. And when a room full of people are completely free, accepting and authentic, an amazing thing happens. The energy changes. Everyone feels that Vibe of which the Dude so eloquently speaks. And for that time, we really are, completely free.

There are so many lessons we can learn from this. Freedom does not begin and end behind the walls of a conference. It’s something that we, as media-makers, inherently have. It’s something we have to offer others…from the people who consume our content, to our clients, to the people we love. Freedom begins with being true to yourself. It thrives when everyone follows suit. The Dude lives this. I am learning it. And the really cool part?  We can and will continue to create, share, and connect in the way that we choose.

Isn’t that the ultimate freedom?

How to Win Clients and Influence People
The Culture of Free and Why it Needs to Change



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