What Should Fortune Brainstorm About?

Last night, I attended a dinner hosted by Fortune magazine at the La Mar, a new-ish Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco. The dinner, which was emceed by Fortune magazine managing editor Andy Serwer, attracted more than 20 of the better-known technology industry insiders and investors, among them Alan Patricof (GreyCroft Partners), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Ann Winblad (Hummer Winblad), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Ron Conway (Silicon Valley angel investor), Max Levchin (Slide) and Mark Pincus (Zynga).

Fortune editors wanted to find out what was on the mind of technology insiders so that they could craft the right agenda for their Brainstorm Tech 2009 conference, scheduled for later this summer in Half Moon Bay, Pasadena, Calif from July 22-to-24. The discussions were wide-ranging and the topic suggestions, diverse.

Gina Bianchini, CEO of Ning, believes that even people who find themselves unemployed are unlikely to give up their $50-a-month broadband connection; after all, it’ll be a way for them to find bargains, hunt for jobs or seek out cheaper apartments. She thinks more time will be spent online, including on social networks. Recent upsurges in the usage of Twitter, Facebook and other such services offer a good proxy for Gina’s predictions.

It was also suggested at one point that this downturn would be the end of licensed packaged software. And some think we’re on the cusp of personalized medicine, thanks to the availability of diverse biomedical resources and their marriage to ever-cheaper computing. But by and large, the focus was on our government, in particular the bailouts and the impact of the credit crunch. And most expressed belief in the power of innovation and optimism.

Just to be clear, being a devotee of technology, I am still an optimist, just a more pragmatic one. My view is that most of us (including myself) who live very comfortable Silicon Valley lives don’t quite grok the current economic crisis and the sociological upheaval it’s unleashing across the world.

My view stems from the fact that an increasing number of people live in sub-human conditions. Others, thanks to closing factories and moribund economic activity, are losing jobs and facing their own bleak futures. These are bad tidings that could result in chaos. However, just like the Renaissance followed the dark and chaotic Middle Ages, we will see a revival. Call it Renaissance 2.0 or whatever, but this adversity is going to result in an innovation boom.

I plan to write up some of the individual conversations I had as blog posts, but I first want to take this opportunity to ask you guys: What are the big themes that Fortune should cover at its Brainstorm Tech 2009 conference?

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