MineCon: Not Kids' Play

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The World is Certainly Not Flat.

Phil Gilchrist, TE's VP and CTO for Data and Devices, was awed by the learning opportunity provided by MineCon, Minecraft's fun, innovative, mind-expanding, two-day gathering.

Braving the New World

In July my wife, our three kids, and I were lucky enough to go to MineCon, the two-day get-together of Minecraft game fans, held at London’s Docklands Excel center. This year, over 10,000 kids attended. (The tickets sold out in days; and it was clear another 10,000 tickets probably could have been sold.) In case you don’t have kids (or if you do but have air gapped their computers), Minecraft is “a game about breaking and placing blocks,” of Mojang AB, a Swedish gaming company. It’s a kind of digital toy block system, in which vast and incredibly complex worlds are created and destroyed. Animals and people, fantasy or drawn from nature, move through bright, blocky, textured landscapes of their own invention. More than 20 million copies have been sold and growth is accelerating. I admit, I felt like a caveman visiting the Large Hadron Collider. I didn’t get it at first. Now I have, and it’s not kids’ play. Here are three things that made MineCon great.

Immersed in Technology

Opening Minds in Play

First was the tangible belief of 10,000 kids — all in brightly colored tee-shirts, clutching pick-axes made from blocks, some wearing cube shaped hats — that they were indeed part of a global community of Minecraft game fans, and that it was all real and bright and wonderful. Energy burned without lapse as worlds created in bedroom PCs across the globe came to life. Proto-geek kids rushed between Mojang developer panels and server hosting tips with the urgency of United Nations delegates working a deal on global warming. Panels got deep into the mechanics of coding and textural rendering, while the large physical exhibitions of Minecraft characters and tools could be touched and climbed on, providing rest and mobile phone photo props. The developers were viewed as rock stars. “You must be reading my notebook!” one of the developers exclaimed to a seriously precocious, suggestion-filled 12-year-old kid hogging the microphone during Q&A. This wasn’t marketing. This was immersion. This world was real and the kids were in it. From a parent’s perspective, a geeky, tech savvy, creative, strategic thinking community of proto-engineers made it feel like the new Disney. STEM candidates, all, with an art minor. I loved it. 

The tech savvy, creative, strategic thinking community of proto-engineers made it feel like the new Disney. STEM candidates with an art minor. I loved it.
Phil Gilchrist,
Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
Phil Gilchrist, TE's VP and CTO of Data and Devices

Technology

Valuable and Executable

Second was the historical contrast that occurred to me as we walked beside the River Thames. Hosting MineCon in Docklands summed up our time. Docklands is in an area that used to be called the Port of London, at one time the world’s largest port. Ships have been docking and undocking along this stretch of the river since Roman times. The only things floating there now were some old barges and a decommissioned fire ship that, given the unusual heat, local kids jumped off of into the cool waters of the ancient city. Few businesses are older than shipping. Right beside the grey river, in a large space as big as any tea warehouse of yesteryear, bits and bytes were flowing at incredible speeds unseen between MineCon and hosting servers somewhere in the U.S. or Europe, creating digital products of the “mind” worth billions of dollars. In the main hall an enormous screen as big as a barge magnified these paneled mind-entrepreneurs, who seemed unaware of the contrast of the very old and very new business models. It seemed the difference between a non-magic and magic world, and the wizards were on stage. The question struck me, “Has there ever been an age when technical creativity was more valuable and executable?” What a great time for our kids to be living in. 

Petabytes in Nanoseconds

Digital Democracy in Action

Lastly, and selfishly, is the confirmation that the business of moving bits and bytes around at astonishing speeds and storing them is at the hub of our new world just as shipping was once at the center of the old world. HP, among others, is creating ion-based memory devices that can extract a single byte from 160 petabytes in 250 nanoseconds. New technology levels are being attained daily, it seems, like fast moving lava, unstoppable, paving new landscapes in which a small Swedish software company very far from Hollywood can create something so culturally impactful. It was digital democracy in action. 

Watching the kids with one foot in the real and one in the virtual world, it struck me that the new world certainly is not a “flat” world. It’s a lot more interesting than that. It’s an augmenting dimension of an ever present, virtual space of vast invention, life and complexity that can be summoned into existence via any computer or handheld device. Frankly, it was as real to these kids as London Tower, maybe more so. I loved every second of it.