Cook: City, meet your future

Cook: City, meet your future

August 7th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Went to the Gig Tank's Demo Day on Tuesday, one of the coolest events of the year in our city. Mr. President, you should've chosen this.

Investors, thinkers, entrepreneurs, students, all of them merged into Chattanooga, searching for glimpses of the future of the Internet and the Gig.

Like a chrysalis, the summerlong Gig Tank allowed start-up teams to turn razor's edge-ideas into promising companies that use the Gig. Tuesday was their Super Bowl, their Quinceanera.

They fingered their laptops with a gleam in their eye, Stradivarius before a fiddle, and envisioned a Gig world where medicine, banking, shopping, fitness and manufacturing are all radically different, leaner, faster, more effective.

More wired.

"Chattanooga today has the opportunity to step up and become the Silicon Valley of the South," said Miller Welborn, a mentor at Co. Lab, which hosted the Gig Tank.

But for all its coolness, Demo Day was a tad complicated. At least for me. (Hash tags, I just learned, are not part of the breakfast menu at Waffle House.)

Part of the time, I had no idea what the presenters - young, bold, brains running on all cylinders - were talking about. Shakespeare on one end, geeks on the other.

Like this: "Using available APIs, we integrate popular wellness applications and trackers into one, simple UI that allows users to manage goals instead of apps."

Or this: "OpenPath is a browser-based videochat service for place-based education for the mobile phone and desktop, enabling place-based learning experiences that are more relevant and engaging."

(Is it just me?)

Peel back all this talk of APIs and UIs (and IQs), and you're left with three beautifully sound and inspiring points:

The world is moving zip line, Moore's Law fast.

Smart people are the rock stars of this world.

And Chattanooga could be ground zero for all of it.

"The original Gig City," Ben Moskowitz, of Mozilla, told the crowd.

Chattanooga has become the 21st century version of a 15th century explorer; way up from the crow's nest, stretching, squinting, pushing forward to find this new wired world.

It's not land we're after, but intelligence, creativity, guts, vision to see how Gig-Internet will manifest itself tomorrow.

The coming world will be connected in new ways (neo-con!), and the winners are the ones who know how to sail this ship. Less conquering and placing flags in the ground, more figuring out how the wind blows.

Tuesday was full of youth. It was hard to be there and not realize the importance of young people, the ones with the reins in their hands. The first generation born into a truly wired world, they're the lifeblood of 21st century cities.

"To be 20 again," said Barry Large, with The Lamp Post Group, integral to all of this. "It's a blessing to have a clean slate because everything is happening so fast."

"There is such incredibly bright talent who have built and already sold companies ... and are doing business with Fortune 100 companies," said Welborn. "And they're between 15 and 23 years old."

Gig-philosophy is youthful in its ideas, too. People spoke of the importance of female entrepreneurs (River City's Tiffanie Robinson envisioned Chattanooga as the world's leader for female investors), economic eco-systems and high school students.

"Do you all know what a Mooc is?" Bob Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, asked the crowd.

(Oh yes, I nodded. They go well with fresh basil and a hearty merlot.)

"Massive open online courses," he explained.

Moocs take education and put it in a choke-hold. Gig-speed explodes the classroom from four walls into something that's limitless. In the 20th century, your classroom experience was bound by geography; want to take classes at, say, Stanford University? You had to be there, physically present.

In the coming world, classes will be offered across the world, to anyone, at anytime.

"The Internet is going to disrupt education in a very positive way," said Metcalfe, who got a standing ovation.

It's like the Gig Tank is one big leaning forward. And the more we lean forward into this coming world, the more we attract the attention, creativity and investment of the world.

But.

"You have to seek critical mass," said Metcalfe.

This can't be something in the background, a hobby or fun headline. Investors, universities, public schools, governments and business leaders must become part of this. More so. We need a dozen Lamp Posts.

Because this new world is coming.

It would be tragic for someone, somewhere else, to discover it.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.