Today the Memphis newspapers picked up on the story that New York Times best selling author, Damien Echols would be speaking at everywhereelse.co the startup conference. For those of you not familiar, he was one of three teenage boys arrested and eventually convicted of the brutal murder of three 8 year old boys in West Memphis Arkansas in the early 90′s. Echols, along with Jessee Misskelly and Jason Baldwin were eventually coined The West Memphis Three.
Baldwin and Misskelly were sentenced to life in prison while Echols was sentenced to the death penalty. Their case, imprisonment and trial spawned three HBO documentaries called “Paradise Lost” and eventually a more up to date documentary called “West Of Memphis” directed by Hobbit director Peter Jackson.
The attention brought on by the first Paradise movie sparked an interest in the case by several celebrities including Eddie Vedder the frontman for Pearl Jam, Johnny Depp, Dave Navarro of Nirvanna, The Dixie Chicks, Peter Jackson his wife Fran Walsh and many others.
Through fundraising, spreading the word and sparking a movement the West Memphis Three was eventually set free from Prison in 2011 after agreeing to an Alford’s Plea. Several celebrities were on hand, including Vedder who Echols considers a close friend, when they were released.
So why in the world would Echols come to a startup conference?
Echols is now a best selling author, movie producer and even helped out on the set of the current Hobbit movie. That’s not why though. Over the past five or so years there have been some discussions, as well as written pieces, to the effect of what would happen if you were frozen in time or if you had missed the last 20 years of technology. The same period of time that the boys were in prison, and Echols on death row, is often credited as the fastest growing time in technology.
Think about tech in the early 90′s. Beepers were for doctors and drug dealers, and mobile phones were either in bags, mounted to the car or too big for your pocket. Video games were just barely 16bit and some of the entrepreneurs who’ve created some of the biggest startups in the world were barely in pre-school.
Echols spent his entire prison sentence on death row which meant no tv, no day room, and certainly no access to technology. Several reports came out after his release from prison that included his first experience with a touch screen buttonless iPhone. What it was like to receive a first text message and how nobody at restaurants talks to each other any more they all sit and stare at their phones and text.
Googling Echols in recent day will reveal that he’s in no way short of any speaking engagements, in fact in arranging our fireside chat with him and Commercial Appeal writer James Dowd, it was said how interested Echols was in an engagement that talked about technology, culture and the way things have changed in 20 years.
Now nearly two years after his release Echols has traveled the world, even to New Zealand and around the country talking to people about his book and his life. He is a regular on Twitter and can provide a look at technology that some of us take for granted. This is the first time Echols has made an appearance like this in Memphis since his release.