It’s Monday mid-afternoon and I am sitting on a couch at a charging station with geeks of all stripes swirling around me. Those of us on the couches are all, minus one or two, typing away on our shiny silver MacBooks or white iBooks, but if I could see a pastiche of all those screens I’m guessing it would not look so uniform. Sure there would be Twitter and Facebook profiles, but also business plans and invoices, lines of code, maybe even my.SXSW.com. My point is that even though on the outside this army of geeks may look somewhat similar — we do have a stereo type after all: lots of privilege, mostly white, many pairs of eye glasses, a preponderance of gadgets — under the surface this army is concerned with an incredible array of ideas in the digital milieu. And lest you think that milieu is itself limited, just think about how the Internet is so quickly changing everything from science to sociality.
I’ve been experiencing an incredible cross section of this diverse milieu, tailored to my own interests but providing much broader exposure. The sessions I’ve been hitting have ranged from web content strategy to content management systems, from crowdsourcing to the publicity and privacy issues of being a part of the crowd. Of particular general interest was Dan Roam, famous for his Healthcare Napkins slide show. The main thrust of his talk “Blah, Blah, Blah….Why Words Don’t Matter” was to help us understand as communicators that we can’t really share an idea unless we have the ability to both talk about it and show it. Another incredible session was Danah Boyd’s keynote on Privacy and Publicity. This issue is so timely and her research about how we use social media so far ahead of the curve than most discussions of these issues that I plan on posting my notes when I have a chance to clean them up. For the time being and the truly interested, here is the full text of her talk.
At this point I’m going to do something that might smack a bit of self-promotion, but in reality is much more practical…I’ve been tweeting pretty regularly at twitter.com/lsgrodeska and I’d encourage you to take a gander. Not only will you see some tiny morsels I found tasty enough to share, you will also get an idea (I think) of the ebb and flow of ideas and action at SXSW. Sometimes things come clear and fast, other times slow and hazy but in one way or another, everything has just flowed.
And so, on Day 5, nearing the end of Interactive and gearing up for the transition to Music, South by Southwest has not disappointed and Austin has most definitely delighted. Great food, better friends, both new and old, and pristine weather full of sun and warmth during the day and just enough of a chill at night. Most of all, I’ve been throughly enjoying my twice daily bike rides along the river between my hostel and the convention center – once in the morning to the conference and then back later in the day to drop off my bag and regroup before heading back out into the fray.
During one of those rides I happened upon a group Wood Ducks in a small stream behind the convention center that feeds in to the river. Now every time I ride across the bridge that crosses that stream, I’ve stopped and lingered. I’ve seen up to 6 males and 3 or 4 females, and yesterday I even saw a male mount a female. It is spring time, after all. These petite, color-by-numbers creatures have brought some extra joy to my days, and some much needed persepctive on all the heady, techy ideas being batted around. For in this arena of ideas, it is far too easy to miss the forest for the trees. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium may well be the message, but that is precisely why we need to be conscious of the message we want to spread as we build the medium. If we don’t take the time to do so, we run the risk of having the medium determine the message. For me, those ducks are a beautiful, tangible, and very necessary reminder of one message I am trying to bring to the medium — environmental responsibility and collective stewardship of our home, planet Earth. I challenge others to verbalize their own messages as we navigate the information stream that is SXSWi.