Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Toronto, The High-Tech Hub: A Lesson from the Sex Pistols

Toronto, the High-Tech Hub

Toronto the High-Tech HubFor the past six months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my career in high tech, where I want to take it, Toronto’s role in my high-tech career and conversely my own role in Toronto’s standing as a hub for high-tech. I said “Watch this space!” in an earlier article about ideas Toronto can borrow from Silicon Valley and Seattle, and promised to talk about what it would take to build up Toronto as a high-tech hub and a livable city. Here’s the first of my thoughts on the topic, and it’s about punk rock.

A Sex Pistols Concert

Over at the excellent blog Zen Habits, Brian “Copyblogger” Clark talks about a very important punk rock performance that took place in Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. The band was called the Sex Pistols, who were still unknown at the time.

“Johnny Rotten” (John Lydon) from the Sex Pistols
John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon, lead vocalist of the Sex Pistols.

Only 42 people attended, and Clark writes that “Attendees ranged from the local mailman to a few rebellious school children”. However, also among the audience were these people, luminaries of the British alt-rock scene, who along with the Sex Pistols would define the new music scene of the 1980s and whose influence can still be felt today:

“This tiny concert,” writes Clark, “is considered on par with Woodstock and Live Aid in terms of importance, due to the influence the audience went on to have on popular music by creating the independent music scene.”

The Lesson

This concert is an object lesson in the power of gathering like-minded people and giving them a little inspiration. As Clark puts it, “that small group of people spotted the changing dynamics in music and took action, because if the Pistols could do it, so could they. By seeing the inevitable future they became important players in that future.”

That’s what I hope DemoCamp accomplishes for high-tech in Toronto. It should gather like-minded people together, show them what their peers are doing, and inspire them to go forth with their own creations, see the future and become important players in that future.

The folks at local Ruby/Rails development shop Unspace certainly understand this and have even taken up the punk rock spirit in creating their own Ruby conference, RubyFringe, which may someday be written up as the Ruby equivalent of the Sex Pistols concert. I hope to see more independent conferences like this.

Rubyfringe logo

The Anti-Lesson

The Sex Pistols concert was influential because it was set up by musical innovators and attended by musical innovators. Can you imagine what would’ve happened had it been organized by Manchester’s City Hall?

It probably would’ve gone like this: City Hall likely would’ve organized it as a showcase of Manchester musicians who performed in inoffensive, accessible, “safe”, commercial, “radio-friendly” styles. The guest list would’ve been organized by the chamber of commerce and would’ve included the media, representatives from major record labels and talent agencies, politicians friom all levels of government, local business owners, people from the tourism industry and of course, major media outlets.

None of the “nobodies” who attended the Sex Pistols concert would’ve been invited.

In the end, the city would have declared the event a success, but in the long run, it wouldn’t even rate as a footnote in musical history.

Is such a limp promotional event in the works? Yes — it’s called Toronto Technology Week. I’m sure the folks behind it mean well.

TechWeek TO: All abord the Failcopter!

The Six-Letter Word That Determines Success

Clark’s article closes with these lines:

Why did I just tell you a story about punk rock and independent music? Well, lots of people can spot trends and have great ideas, but only some do anything about it.

So, what’s the six-letter word that determines success in life?


What are you getting done today?

7 replies on “Toronto, The High-Tech Hub: A Lesson from the Sex Pistols”

I seem to remember thought that some democampers actually suggested something like tech week to the city and to the (almost entirely budgetless ICT development policyists). We kindof asked for it.

The vision was for something like CeBIT in Toronto.

or something like SXSW Interactive in Toronto.

I’m just not sure thats what we got.

TTW was supposed to be bottom up, anyone in theory could organize an event under the umbrella.

I ran an EnterpriseCamp last year, in the end it was pretty successful, though the venue choice was expensive and not ideal, and I got no sponsorship from the city, and a little PR from a listing on the TTW website. I had to put a relatively high price on tickets, and still make up the rest from my own pocket.

City hall didn’t organize TTW last year. In fact they hardly did anything at all.

[…] The truth is, I am one person – and nothing I’ve written about today is new in comparison to the range of topics discussed in the Vancouver Transit Camp wiki. I believe the staff when they say they are committed to wanting to participate in a meaningful, ongoing conversation with the community, and who want to know how Transit Camp can be a tool in starting that. I think they’ll need a bit of help through the first humps in learning what this conversation means for their own internal processes, for their corporate self-identity, and for their relationship with the public. I think the lesson that needs to be learned is that we, as members of the community, are all learning what the potential for this dialogue is. I think facilitating meaningful online dialogue is difficult, but not impossible, just as offline dialogue can be difficult. I think we all have a stake in seeing this be successful and a good process, and to make it be known outloud if it turns out that it isn’t. (As an aside, the Camp community should not be viewed as a cheerful, uncritical bunch. The Toronto folks are demonstrating their willingness to call bullshit when they see it, very creatively at times.) […]

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