Tech entrepreneur Ben Parr spoke to a standing room only crowd at the McConnell Foundation in Redding on Thursday, fielding questions about who he is, what he’s doing, and what he thinks about stuff and the future. His reputation as a creator of Mashable.com and as a White House tech consultant preceded him, but his perception of the Northstate was, he admitted, a blank page before traveling here recently on a writing retreat.
Sporting a pair of Google glasses, on which he said he’d just gotten an email from the Captain of the Irish Rugby Team, he offered some advice to a group seemingly eager for his guidance. He recommended requiring all students to learn computer code, since there is a shortage of programmers, and the skill is fundamental to a world increasingly driven and dominated by communications and technology; and he urged people to tackle inefficiencies, and change the world, through entrepreneurship.
Parr, a journalist, is writing a book due to be published next year by Harper Collins on the subject of Captivology, which he calls “the science and psychology of attention.” His rhetorical question about what makes people pay attention to products, companies, colors and even to danger, was followed up by practical business analytics: get ready, he told his audience, to see a revolution in quality mobile advertising—an area of projected $20 billion in market potential. Sponsored by Catalyst, a group of Redding young professionals, the overflow crowd was spurred to come out and hear Parr with less than a week’s notice via email blasts.
The mix of questions demonstrated both a hunger for digital solutions for local economic and social problems, and for insight into how Redding and the Northstate can better appeal to high tech companies or start-ups. For the latter, Parr cited the principle of “cumulative advantage,” and how the success of just one idea, company or venture can propel others to cluster in a region. But inevitable questions about rural vs. urban attributes prompted him to reflect on why he left his own Midwest Illinois town of less than 8,000 population: “It was boring!”
Moderator Rocky Slaughter noted that the random group of local professionals and educators in the audience represented a virtual market survey for ideas. Perhaps Catalyst will consider staging a follow-up symposium to elicit ways to apply Parr’s new thinking to the very old regional problems mentioned, including high unemployment and low education levels. From the few hints about current local ventures given by some questioners, including Garrett Viggers’ app start-up, and Benjamin Briceno’s CharitySound, that would be anything but boring.