Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch & the Power of the Internet

Randy Pausch 1960-2008

If there ever was an example of how social media can spread an important message virally -- Randy Pausch's story has to be it.

Randy died today at age 47, 11 months after giving an academic lecture that was seen in person by several hundred people, but thanks to the Internet, has been watched by millions more.

Randy was a ground-breaking professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh. He co-founded the university's Entertainment Technology Center and developed Alice, the university's innovative educational software for teaching computer programming. He was at the top of his professional game, when, two years ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given less than a year to live.

On September 18, 2007, he delivered his "Last Lecture" at CMU -- I've capitalized the words "last lecture," because that's the name of a special lecture series at CMU. Speakers are invited to talk about what they would say if indeed, the lecture was their last.

For Pausch it truly would be his last lecture at his beloved alma mater. Entitled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," the lecture was Pausch's funny, upbeat and self-deprecating look at his own life, punctuated by his sage advice for living -- even as he knew he was dying. If you haven't watched it you should (click here).

Randy's lecture was posted on CMU's website, then on YouTube, and has been watched by at least 6 million people, probably more. It was turned into a best-selling book. It lead to invitations to testify before congress about funding for pancreatic cancer research, to appear on Oprah, to work out with the Steelers, even to appear as an extra in the upcoming Star Trek movie. As one colleague put it, Pausch lived more in his last year of life than most of us will live in a lifetime.

For those who knew Pausch today is bittersweet: he is gone, but his legacy will live on, thanks to his courage, humour, and a lecture that, thanks to the Internet, has touched people around the world.

Watch one of KDKA's obituaries on Pausch by clicking here.

Watch Pausch's address to CMU graduates in May by clicking here.

Watch a version of the Last Lecture with running commentary by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal who co-authored Pausch's book by clicking here.

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