Hay Festival Roundup5th June 2012
This weekend I spent a few days at the Hay Festival. It’s an inspiring festival that covers an eclectic range of topics including psychology, literature, media, design, philosophy and music.
Despite the range of subjects, almost every event I attended had something that was relevant and applicable to the web, whether that be audiences, storytelling or process. Here’s the summary of my experience:
Ian Robertson – The Winner Effect
‘The Professor of Psychology analyses how and why success changes the chemistry of the brain, making us more focused, smarter, more confident – and aggressive.’
Robertson used sport as an analogy. When people win they showed increased levels of testosterone and when they lose the opposite was true. This is the case in both men and women. He also used fish to explain that people are often passive and inferior when successful others are around them but when that winner is removed there is a space to fill and we can step up to the plate as it were.
Another example he used was successful parents. He explained how egos are inflated as people experience increased success and that sometimes a successful parent can disable a child as they have set the bar too high and as such they subconsciously ‘hide the ladder’ meaning the child can never be as successful as their parent. His example here was Picasso disabling his own son through his success.
Bold statements from Robertson but as they were delivered without conviction this talk left me wondering what exactly the winner effect is. A state of mind? Environment? Luck?
Robertson’s talk was interesting but the delivery was inconsistent as moments of passion and inspiration from the speaker were bookmarked with stumbling and rambling as he tried to tell the audience about this vast topic. He did have plenty of examples to back up his points but it was unfortunate that some of these contradicted each other which he failed to justify during the question and answer session.
Paul Zak – The Moral Molecule
‘The economist explains his theory that oxytocin drives our morality and is responsible for trust, empathy and other feelings that build and help maintain stable societies.’
Zak was a very engaging speaker and started by asking why do we act morally when we know nobody is looking. This struck a chord with me as I was camping down the road and realised we all leave our possessions in our tents which aren’t locked.
Zak has spent 10 or more years in the lab testing and working on studies about oxytocin – the moral molecule. It was a fascinating talk about oxytocin being hard to measure in humans because when it is released it doesn’t stay around for long. Studies on women who were severely abused in their childhoods showed that they didn’t produce any oxytocin. Zak also studied guests at a wedding (the happy couple were in the audience of the talk too) and he tested several members of the wedding party for oxytocin levels before and after the vows had been made.
There was an increase in oxytocin after the vows with the biggest increase in the bride, then the mother of the bride, the father of the groom and the groom himself. Happy situations make us produce oxytocin and that in return causes us to carry out acts of kindness which can then release oxytocin in others. It was very much proof that what goes around comes around.
Oxytocin is also released during sex and is a bonding agent so it’s an important part of how we build and maintain relationships with others. There’s plenty more info on Zak’s website about this, including how you can increase your own oxytocin levels.
Tim Minchin talks to Sarah Crompton
I saw Tim talk to Sarah Crompton about his career and how he came to write the musical of the Roald Dahl book, Matilda. Amongst this he confessed to saying a lot of things that other people think and the notion of taboo and why we refrain ourselves. He continued to talk about the power that we attach to words and how powerful language can be.
To the audiences’s horror Minchin calmly exclaimed ‘I hope my daughter dies in a car crash tomorrow’. Once the gasps had passed Minchin explained that of course he didn’t want that to happen but also saying it outloud would in no way lead to it happening. As the conversation spilled into one about superstition I was still mulling over Minchin’s point about words and how powerful they are. It was a stark reminder that we have the ability to move others with words but there are times when they are just that, words.
When talking about his success Minchin referred to the hate sites that have appeared in response to his views on religion. Minchin sees these sites as a positive thing, ‘fan sites’ actually as he must be doing something right in order to get people’s attention and evoke something in them that caused them to spend time creating these sites. Interesting outlook on something that others would see as a sign of failure.
Peter Lord – The Pirates!
’The director and stop-motion animation genius takes us behind the scenes on Aardman’s swashbuckling blockbuster.’
I was really looking forward to Peter Lord as I’m a big fan of Aardman and anything related to the making of films. For that reason the content of Lord’s talk was interesting to me but he wasn’t a very engaging speaker. In fact there were times when he didn’t even know why certain slides were in his presentation.
It was still worth it though as I always find it fascinating to hear about the process and tools of others regardless of the platform and trade. Lord showed snippets from the three ways in which they created the film, Story reel, 3D pre visualisations and with models, so effectively they made Pirates three times.
Lord also shared that he had recently visited Pixar. He said that they do have a fun environment with scooters and people working out of sheds but essentially it is 300 people working on computers so it was interesting how they create and reinforce the fun culture of the company through their environment. Pixar project a fun and creative personality and it seems that they practice what they preach with an authentic and consistent culture that most outsiders will never be exposed to.
Expert Panel – The Future of Books
‘The Waterstones, GQ and Nosy Crow masterminds realise the paper and digital future of books with the Googles’ Head of Copyright Policy and the Telegraph’s Head of Books.’
This was my most anticipated talk because of its relevance to my situation. Have I mentioned I’ve written a book?
The panel was pretty impressive for starters – the head of Waterstones, editor of GQ magazine, founder of a children’s book publishing company and Google’s head of copyright. The panel was fantastically facilitated by Gaby Wood, the Telegraph’s head of books.
James from Waterstone’s kicked off by announcing that they would be selling Kindle’s in the near future. This created a few gasps as he did make it clear that Amazon were the competitor to Waterstone’s so he explained why they would soon be sleeping with the enemy. They need to stay relevant to the audience. Kindle’s will exist whether they embrace them or not and with more customers asking for them Waterstone’s have decided to embrace the technology.
Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine, explained how they have created a digital version of the magazine because they too saw that the audience’s wanted the choice of a printed version and a digital version. He has found so far that the two can exist together quite happily but they are still encouraging readers to the digital version to purchase printed books via the GQ book club.
Jones also stated that they felt they must have an app because it was the only way to survive. What they soon learned was that the worst thing anyone can do is have an app for the sake of it so they had to rethink the digital version, create a separate strategy and see it as a standalone product.
Google’s head of copyrighting seemed out of place and there could have been a whole separate discussion on that topic alone so the most interesting speaker on the panel for me was Kate Wilson, Managing Director of Nosy Crow, publishers of children’s books and apps. Wilson discussed ‘reading experiences’ and said that they needed to ensure audiences were considered in all instances as should storytelling. Whether it is a printed book in your favourite chair or a digital book on the train, audiences should be given the best reading experiences available.
Wilson stated that research into teens showed that they much prefer reading phsycial copies of books because they allow for some rare off-screen time in today’s technology mad digital world. She continued that digital books allow authors and publishers to reach new audiences that they would previously have never been able to. As a children’s published, Nosy Crow are increasingly investing in interactive reading experiences for their young audience, allowing children to choose which direction the story goes in and by having audio tracks they give control to the child as they can hear the book without relying on a parent reading it to them (although an audio track can never replace a parent of course).
All panellists seemed to agreed that the physical book is here to stay because people value the tangible, personal experiences that allow them to get lost in other world’s whilst cosy. But they also agreed that publishing is evolving and whilst this is exciting for them all they need to stay relevant, adapt as needed and offer unforgettable reading experiences to audiences on all platforms.
There we go. Books, publishing, film, psychology, science, media, audiences, I had a very interesting and varied few days which is probably why I came home with books on conspiracy theories, branding and a pop up Return of the Jedi book. If you ever get the chance to go to the Hay Festival then please do. You won’t regret it.