“To mess with the way that people communicate their ideas”
Blackwell’s digital director Matthew Cashmore is going to make some Anglican parish a very fine priest.
“I get criticised,” he told the #FutureBookHack’s gathered assembly Saturday morning, “every time I introduce a hack day and tell people, ‘You can change the world with what you do this weekend.”
Seated at tables and on beanbags, standing at the coffee station, hovering near the registration table, his congregation of coders, programmers, engineers, developers, illustrators, publishers’ executives, journalists, and others, grew quiet as his opening brief to the hackathon developed the cadence of a good sermon.
“I’m not being over the top,” Cashmore said. “We’re not talking about electronic locks on doors or cars. We’re talking about stuff that changes the world.
“And you get to mess around with it. You get to sit at the crux of a shift in the way people consume content, and more importantly ideas – and mess around with it.
“You get to mess with the way that people interact with those ideas.
“You get to mess with the way that people communicate their ideas.
“There is nothing more powerful in the world.
“And you have the next couple of days to sit here and think about that properly without any other distractions. I urge you to use that time to do just that.
And to make the world to get a better place.”
Beat, beat, beat…
“And to get five grand,” interjected The Bookseller’s Alice Ryan, tireless organizer of the event.
“And to get five grand,” Cashmore agreed, to laughter and applause, referencing the £5,000 pound prize on offer for the best idea to come from the weekend.
Cashmore was setting up the UK’s first industry-wide publishing hackathon with the practiced humor he brings to the task from what described as almost 10 years of such events, starting with “innovation labs” a decade ago.
And while the room would follow lunch by teaming up to work on various projects and challenges, Cashmore wasn’t kidding about his own new direction: he really is in seminary and will “pivot,” as we say, from publishing to the ministry in about three years’ time, he told us.
Some 72 hackers are now in discussion, as this story posts, at the Roberts Building at University College London. Workshops are being held by publisher-partners who have supplied assets to the participants.
And about a dozen speakers followed Cashmore in the morning session with quick, pointed comments – offering pointers about what the industry – and readers – need the digital potentials of today’s publishing scene to produce.
“Find a theme,” Cashmore instructed the gathering. “Find an idea. Find something that you want to work on and use this time to think about only that. Try to get your head into a space where you’re thinking about one thing for a long time. Because when you do, that’s when the really good ideas that change the world happen.”
And who better than a man of the cloth knows temptation when he sees it?
“Try not to be distracted,” Cashmore added, “by the awesome bookstore over the road.”
He glanced out the window at the Waterstones sign across Torrington Place from the hackathon site. And charity, of course, prevailed.
“It’s not as good as Blackwell’s, which is in Charing Cross Road, but it’s still awesome.”
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Image by Nigel Roby: The FutureBook Hack sign at the entryway to the Roberts Building, University College London