WTF… at SXSW, that stands for “what the future?” It was one of my favourite parts and I spent most of the final day learning all kinds of wild things about the present that had escaped my attention since the regular media is more interested in Kardashians than crickets.
I started the day in the very first session learning about the next industrial revolution according to the CEO of inventables. He was very convincing! And we even got to see the mayor of Chicago make a personalized bottle opener live using the company’s 3-D printing technology.
It’s definitely food for thought. Long ago, when I was at business school, the concept du jour was just-in-time manufacturing. At the time, it was revolutionizing the business cycle and suggesting Americans should be doing group calisthenics like the Japanese.
The other concept I remember was the idea of customization – moving away from Henry Ford’s factory and letting customers have more say in the final product. The concept was very compelling but the mechanics of the production process and the supply chain made it difficult to make customers happy AND maximize profits.
But then Apple started making ipods in different colours. People were willing to spend more to express their individualism. And individualism came at a much cheaper price thanks to new global supplies of cheap labour and containerization.
But, if the inventables CEO is right, we won’t need cheap developing country labour or container ships. We will be able to customize and manufacture products in our own garage. It’s a seductive and revolutionary concept – the point of WTF.
The next two sessions offered literal food for thought! Apparently there is some recent study that predicts the already overcrowded planet earth will add another 2 billion people by 2060 – and it will be impossible to feed all those mouths without some really inventive changes in the way we think of food. I’m not sure the spoiled western world is quite ready for most of it yet but it’s exciting to know someone is thinking of the future.
The first idea is growing hamburger from stem cells in a lab! Dr. Mark Post actually made a hamburger in a lab in Maastricht. If petri dish hamburger isn’t your thing, another very enthusiastic presenter shared his vision of 3-D printer food. It sounds nuts but the concept is kind of a cross between a blender and a manufacturing extrusion device. You put various components into separate chambers and they are combined in the machine and popped out in time for dinner! You can even add medicine or vitamins. Apparently Star Trek wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed.
These food concepts are enticing and appealing but also expensive. The next presentation was focused on saving space, conserving resources and cutting costs. Of course, it’s a hard sell in the western world where insects are not considered a proper food source but rather a gross challenge for reality show contestants.
But the intrepid team put forward a credible case for insect farms and cricket flour. I didn’t get a chance to try the cricket cookies as I had to run back for the keynote presentation but I did eat a deep-fried locust in Thailand – and can confirm it just tasted like deep-fried batter rather than bug 🙂
Around the same time as I was learning about the threats to the global food supply from overpopulation, I caught an episode of Bill Maher where he interviewed Alan Weisman about his book “Countdown”.
I still find it shocking that not everyone realizes the way to save the planet is simply to educate girls. Educated women don’t have so many babies – and women tend to be more concerned about the collective so it’s all win-win.
Of course getting there is the challenge. The one thing I learned from Alan and Bill that I did not expect is that Iran is a model for population control. No weird, destructive one child policy required. They simply made contraception free and educated women.
So, the choices is yours, people… don’t call women sluts for using contraception, support organizations that help girls go to school (the more the better) or learn how to not gag on your insects… 🙂