I had been pitched on this interdisciplinary tech/creative conference in the middle of nowhere and decided to go out of perverse curiosity - because really, who in their right mind would have a conference in Nebraska? I had to find out. My good friend and FreedomSpeaks.com co-founder Kurt Daradics' curiosity got the best of him, as well; and when I told him I planned to drive, he booked a plane not to Omaha, but to D.C., so we could make the journey together. That was the start of the "road trip gone Twitter."
We laid out a plan to visit ten cities for ten social media meetups and tweet, blog, live stream, video blog, and photograph almost every waking moment of the trip. With advice from Duke Stump (of North Star Manifesto renown), we carefully crafted our goals and intentions, you know, to give it a slightly less reckless air. We involved a Wordpress developer and tech scene photographer, Jonathan Dingman, in our escapade. About two weeks after it occurred to us to go to Omaha in the first place, we had a website up and running, we had sponsors contributing funds and product, and we had already set off on a 3,000-mile journey across the Midwest.
Video features @JolieODell and @Dingman, camera work by @KurtyD.
I'm writing this now from the backseat of a moving car. We're rolling over the irrigated fields of Iowa about 30 minutes away from BIGOmaha and Gary Vaynerchuk's opening night party; we're getting calls from our metropolitan social media friends already there and excitedly sharing stories we've gathered so far. We tell them about the young St. Louis farmer whose local produce co-op was at capacity with a full waiting list, the tech scenesters still on fire from their town's first BarCamp or Startup Weekend, the fresh perspectives on the purposes and future of tech, the deliberate and intentional movements to live and buy locally, the strong online connections within physical communities (it's not just the geeks on Twitter out here; it's the waitresses, the baristas, the small business owners, and just about everybody else), and the focus on sustainability in the most pristine corners of our country.
We've seen communities full of optimism and energy and shockingly hip millennial folks, and we've been shown amazing hospitality by complete strangers. I credit this partly to traditional Midwestern kindness and partly to the radically cool nature of the Internet. You see, another big premise of the RoadTwip is that the online and offline each have the most powerful effects when combined. Relationships are strengthened; the social web grows thicker; value is enhanced.
@Dingman and @Giramonda at Arthur Bryant's Barbecue in Kansas City.
One of my favorite stories so far is about Kansas City, which wasn't even a planned stop on the RoadTwip. A few KC locals got wind of the 'Twip and reached out to me on Brightkite; their enthusiasm was so infectious that I ended up begging KurtyD and Dingman to allow for a drive-by meetup for the city's famous barbecue and a look at what residents were telling me was a tradition of microentrpreneurism. We had an amazing time there, ended up staying a couple hours longer than we should have, and are consequently late for Gary V's shindig. But we learned so much from the new friends we made that not one of us regrets a second of it. This, to me, is a perfect illustration of the value of social media. Next time anyone asks me why I waste my time on the Internet, this story is going to make an appearance.
The three of us have mapped out an arc through a lot of open space dotted with relatively small towns in order to hear new stories, challenge our perspectives, stop spinning on the NYC/SF/LA axis of the tech world, get outside the echo chamber, test the IRL capabilities of social media, and get a glimpse of something new and authentic.
@ax0n explains the madness and method behind his blog, KC-Bike.Blogspot.com.
So many young people will never have the extraordinary privilege of visiting the American Midwest.
Perhaps this is due to misconceptions about its nature, population, and culture. Perhaps it's because opportunities are perceived to be greater in more urban areas. Perhaps it's a simple lack of curiosity. Watching the youngest of my cohorts as he drives our packed-to-the-gills car through Missouri rain, exclaiming at the way the cars ahead fade into the bend of the road, I can't help but pity those who will never see this place or meet the many wonderful people who live here and love it.
@KurtyD putting the finishing touches on a RoadTwip video.