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Virginia Postrel is an author and speaker whose work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture, commerce, and technology. Postrel[…]

A great idea, but more focused, interesting, and less mainstream panels are needed.

Virginia Postrel: Okay. Why I came here is because I’m a contributing editor for the Atlantic, and they asked me would I come and help out with the Atlantic, and I figured it would be a stimulating environment, and a pretty place, and fun, and I wanna be a good part of the team. So that’s why I came and I’m moderating a couple panels. What I would say is that the festival means most . . . I have gone to some really wonderful panels, but I’ve been less impressed than I could have been by the festival and I actually wrote kind of a . . . not kind of, very negative blog post about the first session. I think that it needs to be . . . a big question . . . The panels work best when they’re focused and sort of edited in the sense that you think who . . . what’s a really important or interesting question? And who would be the people that we would want to answer this question? So for example, there was a really great panel on nuclear proliferation that had the people you would want to hear talk about the question. It’s a hard question, and it’s focused. The ones that work badly are . . . We had a fun one last night that I was moderator of; but I thought it was you know . . . It was just like Women and American Culture. “Oh, they’re all women. Let’s just stick them on this panel and have them talk about women.” And I don’t know exactly how it came to be because I came in at the end of it; but I didn’t think that somebody sat down and thought of a really interesting question and the best people to answer the question. I think there should be more social science integrated, especially if you’re going to talk about policy issues like environmental issues. It’s not simply a scientific issue. You need to bring in economics and bring in some of these other things. And I think there needs to be a greater premium on . . . and this is just my personal taste and people obviously like it, so I’m telling you everything that is critical. This is “form follows failure”. We have the Aspen Festival Idea. How can it be better? I like conferences that are edited. I like conferences . . . I was a magazine editor. I like where you sit down and you think what questions do we want to ask, and how do we want to put to together. Who should we get? As opposed to ask a bunch of people and then throw them on panels, which in some cases is what happened here. You get interesting people, but they are not necessarily focused on the thing they do best. And then the other thing is I think you could get more interesting people. There are people out there who are less well known, less part of the conventional wisdom who have really interesting ideas to bare on this . . . and who are well established and have good reputations, but just are not necessarily in the circuit. And a lot of what I do in life is find those people. Find those really interesting people so that’s . . . and if Walter wants to call me that’s what I do. I’d be happy to help him out.

Recorded on: 7/4/07