On the 8th of July at YCN, the man with the title ‘Applied Futurist’ delivered an utterly mesmerising talk on his life so far, the role of technology in modern culture, and six books that have affected him.
Ben Hammersley is an internet technologist, journalist, author and broadcaster who 'helps people understand the modern world.' He's also a contributing editor at Wired, and for a couple of years, was the Prime Minister's Ambassador to TechCity. Perhaps most importantly though, he’s one of the most captivating people you could spend your time listening to.
In a highly spirited and fascinating talk, Ben did away with the more traditional reading list format, instead taking us on an energetic journey through his life and how he ended up where he is, punctuated by a selection of books that have interested him along the way.
“I’m paid to live a year or two in the future and come back and talk about it,” he began, before telling us how an Airfix model and a film called The Right Stuff made him want to become an astronaut and then a fighter pilot respectively. Unfortunately, the dream was destroyed a few years later when he failed the necessary medical for having too lengthy a thigh bone. An expectedly low point ensued, until a book called Danziger’s Travels – the real-life account of a man's journey from England to China through forbidden territories – pulled him out of it. “I was basically losing my mind and was given this book. So I thought, ‘I could do that’ and moved to China. Partly because I wasn’t going to be an astronaut and partly because I read the story of this lunatic.”
After a stint in China, he returned to England to study at university, subsequently dropping out after being offered an internship at Associated Press thanks to an extremely well-worded letter that he sent to their Head of HR at the time. A career in journalism ensued, eventually leading Ben to The Times, and into the world of technology journalism. “I wanted to write about technology better than anyone else could,” he explained, and subsequently learnt how to program and code before being asked by The Guardian if he could create some weblogs for them as a diversion tactic whilst they redesigned their website. The result was ‘Comment is Free’ a comment and political opinion site within The Guardian which is still extremely popular.
The beautiful anecdotes, observations, predictions and nuggets of advice that followed Ben’s abridged life story are difficult to condense into a web friendly article, so we'll refrain from doing so. Throughout the talk and the subsequent questions, he covered a vast array of subjects though, including driverless trucks, quantum computing, the future of the London Underground, smart cities, the fall of Kodak and the music industry, how apps could one day replace doctors and solicitors, Moore’s Law and how technology tends to be more human than it appears. As he explained, “All that technology is, is the embodiment of a particular ideology and belief that someone holds. If you look behind any piece of technology, that’s where you’ll find the purpose of it.”
A big thank you to Ben for an enthralling couple of hours. Despite being one of the longest reading list talks we’ve had, it also felt like one of the shortest. Check out his six chosen books below which YCN Members can now freely borrow from the YCN Lending Library.
Danziger's Travels by Nick Danziger
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Getting Things Done by Shortcut Summaries
Programming Perl by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen and Jon Orwant
YCN Members get priority places for all YCN events, both those hosted at 72 Rivington Street and externally. Not yet a Member? Find out the plentiful benefits of joining here.
Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:8th July, 2014 at 6:30pm
End:8th July, 2014 at 8:00pm