I had an inkling that Eleven might be the last IA Summit. In part, that's why I organized Explain IA. It's why I supported the effort and expense of bringing the original information architect to Phoenix, knowing full well that he would make us angry even as he made us think. And, it's why I refused to let being an introvert get in the way of my full participation.
Despite a wonderful opening keynote, the first day was a rough start. During sessions, we could hear the speaker in the next room, and there was no visible AV support. It was hard not to compare this unpolished staging with the fit and finish of competing events. Then, the conversation got messy. We debated and vented about format and grammar, and some of us began to believe that the only correct punctuation was a full stop.
But in the forking paths between middle and end, something changed. And, it wasn't only about the content, although there were some brilliant talks. It was about gifts, trust, hope, humor, family, courage, conversation, and community. At some point, I remembered a passage in The Last Lecture:
Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy's new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don't mess anything up. Don't get it dirty.”
I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That's just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they'd eventually get my car dirty. Kids can't help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.
As I poured out that Coke, I watched Chris and Laura, mouths open, eyes widening. Here was crazy Uncle Randy completely rejecting adult rules. I ended up being so glad I'd spilled that soda. Because later in the weekend, little Chris got the flu and threw up all over the backseat. He didn't feel guilty. He was relieved; he had already watched me christen the car. He knew it would be OK.
If you haven't been to the summit, this madness may not make sense. For those who have, it's worth thinking about what Jared said, that as a community like this matures, it's natural (but not inevitable) that the pioneers leave, and the new folks carry on without them.
As a veteran myself, I have to say that I draw tremendous inspiration from the first and second timers, young and old. And each year, while I learn a lot about IA and UX, the most important thing I learn is why I am here. This year, for me, the summit began on the back of a napkin and ended with the burning of a crumpled note.
But not really. Because the message isn't bound by the medium, and neither are we. So, I'll see you in Denver, and let's plan the next summit as if it's our last, because it might be. And, let's remember that while it's good to fix what's broken, we should avoid applying too much polish, because there's nothing more engaging than a story that remains...