On to themes. I would say the theme this year is scarcity, but not the conventional economic definition of scarcity wrapped around the concept of finite resources or commodities such as corn, oil, or gold. The answer is in two parts and each of the two parts are both humdrum and surprising. Time is very scarce, we all know that. It is scarce because there are only 24 hours a day, 8 of which we are sleeping. We also live only a short time on this earth, so we we can only accomplish so much. What goes hand in hand and perhaps doesn't factor into the daily lifestyle calculations is the scarcity of our own attention spans. It goes without upgrade, without hack, without mechanical means of augmentation.
So while last year's O'Reilly Conference focused on the how RSS, AJAX, and Mashups are evolving into a platform of platforms, where the evolution of how people communication, collaborate, and share has changed because of the kinds of web applications that are evolving - i.e. people are dictating how apps should conform to them rather than how people can conform to the apps. This year, pundits explored how with the bombardment of information and means of interacting proliferates further, and as devices follow the well connected executive everywhere he or she goes whether he likes it or not, the barrage of data begins to mean less without some means of focusing the information.
Linda Stone gave a great talk about how data is easy to find. But the daily struggle, as data becomes easier to store and retrieve, is how data ceases to be useful unless it is codified and relevant. The chain goes something like this: data becomes information becomes knowledge becomes understanding becomes wisdom. Wisdom is attained when data, information, and knowledge becomes assimilated into one's understanding and once that is attained sprinkled with the fairy dust that is context, experience, insight that only time can provide. The arguement of what each of these words becomes semantic very fast, but the principle that data is simply an isolated rudimentary unit while wisdom is rich with context and insight should paint a picture that plagues people and enterprises alike -- as a society we are information rich, but wisdom poor. Wisdom is the ether upon which decisions should and ought to be made.
With that said, I will go into further detail about the specific sessions later. Don't let me forget to blog about George Dyson's session on the origin of the computer along with its cousin the atomic bomb (Von Neuman and his capricious posse at Princeton). Also lets not forget the great sessions by Clay Shirky and Jon Udell.