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WRAY: Geekend: Innovation is for everyone

As I look forward to Geekend from Oct. 15-17, I am bubbling over with excitement to learn how corporate communications will shape up beyond email; what’s new in healthcare technology; how virtual reality will affect our future; and the roles gaming and mobile app development will play in social, political and economic realities.

Geekend, the innovation pilgrimage that is intentionally interdisciplinary, is attracting attendees from South Dakota and South Carolina, Estonia and Effingham, Seattle and St. Simons, Los Angeles and LaGrange.

Surely, when you see the amazing schedule of speakers, topics, events and socializing at www.geek-end.com, you will be excited, too.

Despite the awesome lineup of speakers and panelists and regardless of the fact that Geekend was launched here in Savannah in 2008, occasionally I have conversations with local doctors, lawyers, bankers or insurance agents who say something like “Geekend is for someone else, not me” — and I wonder how innovation is not for everyone?

Think how major innovations have affected economies and social change throughout the world. And you still think innovation is not for you? Just look at three examples of innovation — the printing press, cotton gin and bicycles — and I’ll bet you have second thoughts about innovation’s relevance to you.

Then we’ll tackle social media just to be sure you are convinced.

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. What would the world be like if only scholars and monks had the possibility of reading? Truly, I would miss the chance to connect with you through this column, and I suspect (wink) that wouldn’t be the world’s only difference. Would John Calvin and Martin Luther have led the Protestant Reformation without the ability to publish their books?

As southerners, we should talk about the cotton gin.

Whether you believe the cotton gin of the late 1700s was invented by Eli Whitney or Hodgen Holmes, or whether you believe its presence on southern plantations increased or decreased the demand for slaves, it is impossible to deny that the cotton gin was a huge innovation in textiles, perhaps laying the groundwork for the shirt you are wearing today.

Mentioning southerners, some innovations have had particular impact on the Savannah economy, specifically the shipping container and Charles Herty’s work in the manufacturing of pulp and paper products. Without these innovations, our local economy would be about half its current size.

One of my favorite innovations for social change is the 1890s American bicycle craze and how that event connected women across the country and eventually led to their right to vote. If women had not been interested in bicycle innovation, I wonder how much longer it might have been before they first entered a voting booth?

Social change ignited by innovation is present today and perhaps the most vivid example is the role Facebook played in the Egyptian Revolution in 2011.

In The New York Times, Jose Antonia Vargas describes Wael Ghonim’s book about the Egyptian uprising Spring Awakening: “It’s a book about social media for people who don’t think they care about social media.”

Similarly, Geekend is a conference about innovation, in part, for people who don’t think they care about innovation.

So, as I prepare my heart and mind to embrace new perspectives and glimpse into the world of 2026 through the Geekend lens, I worry about those doctors, lawyers, bankers and insurance agents I mentioned earlier. I wonder if the sign on their door says, “no readers, cotton wearers, women voters or users of foreign made products allowed.”

 

Bea Wray is the executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community within the region. Bea can be reached at 912-447-8457 or bea@thecreativecoast.org.

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Geekend takes place in Savannah from Oct. 15-17. To register, go to www.geek-end.com.

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