When news about the Think Inc. Convention first appeared in my Twitter stream, announcing speakers like Christopher Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Neil deGrasse Tyson I remember thinking, “Whoa! Where did this come from?”
Of course, the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 attracted some huge names, but they were booked through the ‘tried and true’ Atheist Alliance International and the Atheist Foundation of Australia. Members of the atheist and sceptical communities were familiar with these groups and were comfortable with them. But, now, a similar (albeit one-day) convention of ‘Biblical’ proportions seemed to have appeared out of the ether. Its organisers, it turned out, were a small group of young men virtually unknown to either the atheist or sceptical communities. I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d managed (apparently) to sign some of the biggest stars in the ‘rational’ universe. And I wasn’t alone.
There’s been a bit of scepticism about the Think Inc. event. I guess that’s almost par for the course when your target market is a bunch of self-identified sceptics. Was it legit? Would it definitely go ahead? And how the bloody hell did a bunch of young nobodies manage to snare “The Hitch”?
There was so much ‘chatter’ going on about this event, that I decided to go straight to the source. In the last week I’ve had two very long telephone conversations with organiser, Sean Kwan. In fact, as someone with previous experience in organising major events, I’ve given the poor boy quite a grilling. To Sean’s credit, he’s been happy to answer every question I’ve asked him – even the hard ones and the ones it really wasn’t my business to ask.
Sean explained that, although virtually unknown in our community, he and his business partners have considerable experience in the management of large events – particularly music events. One of their biggest ventures was Melbourne’s the Jump Off Under 18s Music Festival in December 2010. This featured a long list of international artists and drew a crowd of over 4000 people.
So how did Sean and his partners manage to book so many big names from the atheist and sceptical world? Shockingly simple, really – the same way they book international music acts – through their agents.
One of my hobby-horses is the need to get young, talented, enthusiastic people heading up our communities. We oldies have a lot to offer, and I’m not suggesting we be pensioned off and consigned to wheel-chairs at the back of the hall just yet. But I’d love to see a younger faces fronting Australian atheism and scepticism. We have such great young talent, and I’d love us oldies to push the young ones into the spotlight and let them shine. Jason Ball, OJ Lesslar, Jayson Cooke, Andrew Skegg, Kylie Sturgess – all these under 40s (and others) are just fabulous advertisements for reason and essential to attract the next generation of activists for secular and sceptical issues. I’d love to see our events rock. So, I’d like to see we older campaigners take a bit of a risk and trust that the younger generation can do the job. After chatting with Sean, I felt reassured that he knows what he’s doing and I really felt I’d like to support him.
Sean and his team are all atheists and sceptics. They (along with their financial backers and sponsors) have taken a huge risk in putting together what looks to be an incredibly exciting event. Perhaps it’s the type of event that only a young team like this would be game to tackle independently. What marvellous things we can achieve when we’re young and seemingly bullet-proof!
Honestly, I can’t say whether Think Inc. will be a financial success. But, Sean has assured me that they have passed the point of no return – contracts have been signed with the venue and all the speakers, deposits and upfront payments have been made so the event is absolutely, definitely, 100% going ahead.
And, what an event it will be! Christopher Hitchens, of course, is too ill to travel to Australia but will be appearing by video link-up. Due to some recent security concerns, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has yet to be 100% confirmed for a live appearance – although everything possible is being done to make this happen. If not, she will appear by video link. But, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is definitely appearing live and will be heading the line-up along with environmental scientist Tim Flannery and sceptic, Michael Shermer. The absolutely fabulous Father Bob Maguire and the eminently huggable Josh Thomas are also listed to speak, along with Youtube star, Cristina Rad, and many others.
Tickets are quite reasonably priced for an event in such a great venue (the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre) and with such high profile names. Day passes are $145 and students can get in for just $115 (plus a small booking fee). If you’re cashed up and want to mix it with the big names, you can do that too by buying a VIP pass for $300. This gives you access to some private events with the speakers and guaranteed best seating on the day.
I know that all of us are looking forward eagerly to the second Global Atheist Convention to be held in April 2012, but this event is slightly different in its focus and offers a great opportunity to see even more of the world’s greatest scientists, sceptics and rational thinkers. There can never be too much of a good thing – and what the hell else would you do with that hundred odd bucks anyway, huh?
So, bottom line, let’s get behind this event. I’ve been very impressed with Sean Kwan’s honesty and sincerity and, if he gets our support, we can look forward to more events of this type in the future.
Sean and his team may be young, but they’re not inexperienced and I’d like to see ‘our team’ give them a go.
The Think Inc. convention will be held on 18 September at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. More details are available at the Think Inc. website.