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  • Writer's picturePetra Zlatevska

My take on NEXT11 day 2 : Meddling with genetics, using social media and fairy lights for maximum ef

Being stuck inside Station for NEXT day 2 on a stunning Spring day was a little unfair yet the quality of the speakers more than made up for it.



Day two of Next11 had more of a practical focus for how data can change our lives – whether for medical research, for social good or product design. The theme running through all sessions of the day was that everyday people, through the use of data can take back control of aspects of their lives. Where they previously had to rely on doctors and scientists to tell them when they were going to get better, or big NGOs to organise fundraising,or industrial designers to design a product it was about going back to basics and using data to create specific, tailored solutions.

  1. Testing, testing

While much of the morning was focused on Social Media, Wired UK’s Chief Editor, David Rowan, focused on two other ‘Ss’: self-tracking and science. He spoke about treatments for three types of illnesses- Lou Gehrig’s Disease/ALS, Depression and Asthma and how patterns and visualisationsderived from the data gathered from new innovations is used to treat these diseases. Probably most fascinating was the Asthmapolis, a new type of Asthma inhaler featuring a GPS- tracking chip which maps the location of the user when they feel short of breath, enabling not only public health officials to know when and where asthma attacks are happening but also enabling every day consumers of the medical industry to keep their illness under control.


The thirst for knowledge about one’s own body, genetic makeup and locating long- lost relatives based on genetic commonalities can all be quenched using the services of California- based genetic testing service, 23andme.com. It was the perfect prelude for the keynote speaker of the day: “Author of the Four Hour Week, World Tango Champion, lover of languages.. “ as it is described on his Twitter profile.

I happened to meet Tim Ferriss before he went up on stage and spoke to him about his book and joked about how I would heckle from the audience. I did not expect the Superhuman to be charming and articulate. The first few minutes of his presentation grossed out almost everyone. It was home-style recorded footage of him at a testing lab in South Africa getting a biopsy done on his thighs, to test whether he had the gene which codes for fast-switch muscle fibres. It was nevertheless a great ice breaker for his talk. While most other guys his age were out skate boarding or dating girls, Tim said he has been recording his data since his adolescence. By his own admission, he has no scientific qualifications.He even has some informal qualifications in sex therapy- giving tips for 15 minute female orgasms! Yet his new book, “The 4 Hour Body” is based on hundreds of hours of using his own body as a human laboratory (even testing his own poo) and countless interviews with scientists and researchers in the quest to find out whether our genetic map is destiny.

According to Tim it is not- genetics can be flipped on and off like a light switch with the right amount of training and correct nutrition. What exactly would it take to morph one’s body? Not much- he is all about making the smallest changes for the greatest impact. His top- tips for weight loss were to eat 30g of protein within the first 30 minutes of waking. Also doing 5 minutes with the kettle ball three times per week, as well as 2-3 repetitions of deadlifts with a 6 minute break, plus keeping a food journal were the secrets to success.


2. Doing Good through Data

While we often think of social media as being an active Tweeter or connecting with friends on Facebook, at it’s heart, social media is more than just communicating and sharing: it is about telling a story.

Mike Arauz, a Digital Strategist, spoke about three key examples where social media has led to social changes. The most entertaining of these was the story about Stephen Colbert, US comedian and talk show host whereby a group of people on Reddit wanted to get Stephen to host a mock rally. Within the first few hours of posting, around 6,000 comments suggested that many people were in favour.Yet the challenge was to get Colbert’s attention. They knew that for him to agree to the rally, it would have to be on fairly high- profile grounds. So using the knowledge that he sat on the board of a charity, the group raised $250K, caught Stephen Colbert’s attention and the rally was staged, making it one of the largest-attended rallies/mock rallies in US history.


He mentioned three characteristics of why people choose to engage in volunteer causes, without expectation of reward or remuneration:

  • It is satisfying work

  • The cause aligns with their values

  • It speaks to their interests

Likewise, the theme of using social media to effect social change was highlighted in the presentation from Amanda Rose, founder of Twestival, the offline meetup of Twitter communities to support a charity.

Amanda Rose did all of the leg work for this project pro bono. The question did come up later in the discussion as to how she had money to live from. I also wondered whether it was typically female to start something without being paid for it and expect no return or reward? It was a bit of a touché moment when Amanda mentioned that she had got better at charging her private clients for PR consulting projects and kept Twestival as her separate, pro bono project.

She shared how she actually did not lose money but was able to raise 100x the amount of her initial investment ($200 for the phone bill) due to the free nature of Twitter and savvy sponsor engagement (Soundcloud for music and podcasting of events and Amiando for ticket registration).

Her personal lessons for working in the twenty first century- she was on the go at least once a month and had no permanent home- had personal resonance for me and no doubt many of the professional nomads in the crowd who were either designers/bloggers/consultants and marketeers.

  • The World is your office. With a flexible approach and clients in different time zones and jurisdictions, it is possible to work wherever you have a broadband internet connection.

  • Free services lower the cost barrier: make the most of Twitter and Skype

  • Technology as an enabler – everyone is equal on social media. Therefore it is a frictionless medium, encouraging cooperation and collaboration for the non- profit sector

  • Harnessing Online for an Offline connection: when the human contact is made offline, it is a way to leverage the power of a brand, an individual or the message of an NGO since you are physically taking action whether by assisting to organise an event, attend or make a donation to a cause

It was an interesting presentation, demonstrating an innovative use of Twitter to support a cause close to the founder’s heart. Yet because it was such a personal journey and cause confined to the founder’s broader global network, many people were in the audience were left wondering where this platform was heading and whether the model was sustainable. Amanda replied that the existing model is undergoing a few refinements and will now focus on emergency causes rather than for established causes.


3. DIY Design

Russell Davies from the advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, spoke about how what seems inevitable is not really interesting. As head of Planning at O & M, the gist of his talk was that people nowadays are finding solutions for their own situations and circumstances, as kitschy or amateurish as these home-made designs may be. The most banal example was his story about how he painted his laptop cover with black, chalk paint in order to jot down notes and memos. He also mentioned the cult internet clip using Halloween lights timed to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

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