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Teri Orr: Glimpsing the future

It baffles my son, the physicist, that I have ended up at this age and stage of my life, being invited to tech conferences when I work in the arts and never graduated college. To be honest, it baffles me, too. But I am delighted to have found this Act Three and the places it takes me.

I have been in the San Diego area for a tech conference and visits with friends and bit of arts business. Michael, who owns a specialty cocktail company, introduced me to some folks he works with at the San Diego Symphony and we talked talent booking and fund raising and ways to raise money besides selling tickets. Then he took me to a hip new restaurant, Ironsides, in the Little Italy section of the city and seated me against a two-story wall of fish heads. Not just any fish heads — pirhanas. The trendy restaurant was packed at lunch time on a Monday and the first course told the story. The food. Was. Fabulous.

When I reached my hotel in Laguna Beach, two hours later, I was overlooking the ocean. Gulls and pelicans and a family of rabbits inhabited the grounds outside my patio. The early morning beach walk had crashing waves and an almost empty beach for miles. The ocean water always shocks me in Southern California. It is warm, unlike the ice water I grew up with in the Bay Area. Still, I rolled up my pants and stayed away from the incoming tide just like I always did as a child. Until that moment, when I stopped in the sand and watched the water approach. And just at the last second I retreated. Tip toed/ran backwards, like I did as a kid. And I might have kinda giggled when I danced away from the water. It was at that point a young man (yes, forty now sounds young) ran past me. "Nice moves" he said in a way that was completely non-sexual. And I laughed at myself. Hard. And softly.

When the conference started later that day it was on the great lawn that dropped off into the sea. At dinner my table was filled physicists, including one of the guys from the Lawrence Livermore facility. Then Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of planetary resources, was the keynote speaker and suddenly I realized science fiction was based in fact. You might want to consider investing in real estate soon, in space.

The tone had been set by Mark Anderson, a guy so smart, The Economist and Forbes quote him about the future of the future. You may remember him as the first speaker Park City Institute presented in collaboration with the Strategic News Service, the people behind this Future in Review Conference. And because there will always be a Park City connection, the conference is organized and curated by Mark’s sister, Park City resident Sharon Anderson Morris.

Mark’s opening talk was about leaving borders behind and for a few days here in this place we have formed a new space where the flow of ideas and the conversations surrounding possibilities for the planet were so big the only place to process them was by looking at the vastness of the ocean and feeling small.

The days included Mark Hurd, president of Oracle, and Vint Cerf, father of the internet and now chief evangelist for Google, and Michael Dell, of, well, Dell. There were conversations about healthcare, lots of them and conversations about how we feed the planet in a healthy, sustainable way. Conversations about private space exploration and travel and the number of asteroids spinning around us. I can assure you after the first 48 hours you would have been spinning too.

Which is how a group of folks ended up on my patio at the hotel with a deep dive conversation about technology, feminism, accountability and therapy, with the writer, director and producer of the film "Alive Inside," winner of multiple awards from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and this year’s featured FiRe film selection. I had brought along my secret potion for such occasions, a calling card from my hometown, and I poured a wee dram of High West into hotel glasses. The gloaming became the twilight and then the night, as the conversation took us on a journey about the quality of life and death and the primal power of music to touch hope and joy and sorrow, wordlessly.

And just to remind us about interconnectedness, a tiny rabbit hopped out of the bushes and sat on the lawn and seemed to enjoy the company. I swear he did. This is the richest content delivered at any conference, not by people who work for The People, but by The People themselves. It is heady stuff, in an intimate setting with less than 200 people, gathered to imagine a future — three to five years from now — filled with possibilities and interdependence and connectedness.

Snippets are competing in my head in no order — the woman who has created an online voting system used internationally, who said "there are no hanging pixels in online voting." The man who said the information in a chip now is so complex and readily available to be manipulated that "it might not be science fiction to think the fancy refrigerators just robbed the online system of Bank of America one day." The use of drones to survey crops and how that reduces spoilage and increases food production. The clips of the film #chicagogirl that tells the story of 19-year-old college girl in Chicago, running the Syrian revolution from her computer.

It is a powerful time to be a human on Planet Earth. Full of opportunities and responsibilities that come from knowledge. We must temper it all with kindness and hope and wonder. Wonder at a future we can imagine and maybe help create from day to day…. It is much to consider this very Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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