The Monday Keynote SxSW Should Have Had

I was reading the actual print newspaper (I like the user experience) this morning and catching a sense of the audience’s bad karma from Twitter’s Evan Williams’s keynote yesterday at Southby.

Personally, I didn’t catch it because (a) I’ve heard Jack Dorsey speak a couple of times and feel like I’ve gotten the scoop already and (b) that was the only block of time that I could find to swing through the SxSW tradeshow and check out all of the groovy new social media whatsits and whoosits being displayed.

From what I gather, the hive complained (once again) about the softball questions and lack of news in the remarks. Had I been there, I wouldn’t have minded that part one bit. After all, a founder’s gotta do what a founder’s gotta do, which is to get the message out, talk about the strategy, try to freeze (or deflect) the competition, etc. Instead, if there is anything I object to, it is the lack of Q&A of any kind.

I mean, come on…guys like Evan have had to pitch and defend their deals many, many times from much tougher customers than the Southby audience. You get so much more cred from being one of the people by taking audience questions, I just can’t imagine why any speaker – keynote or otherwise – would ever allow themselves to be put on stage without having a Q&A component.

Which brings me to a suggestion about the speaker that Interactive really should have had this year: Jaron Lanier. If you’ve been around for a few years, you may have run across Jaron first in a major public way via deep involvement with and advocacy of virtual reality. He is now widely as the father of the movement. I just finished his latest book “You are Not a Gadget” and I’ll have to say that it is a mildly provocative counterweight to much of the pell-mell social media, web 2.x monetization froth has been whipping up the past week here at the conference.

Here are just a few passages I’d like to highlight that caught my attention (NOTE: page numbers are from the print, hard back edition):

  • The preface (pp. ix) – “It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means these words will mostly be read by nonpersons – automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The words will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in remote, often secret locations around the world. They will be copied millions of times by algorithms designed to send an advertisement to some person somewhere who happens to resonate with some fragment of what I say. They will be scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams…”
  • The deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits (pp. 21) – “I can propose such a list [of ‘save-the-world’ suggestions] to the problems I’m talking about:
    • Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger
    • Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view
    • Write a blog that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out…”

Interested yet? I’ll add a few more passages and some closing comments tomorrow, but the thing to remember is that Jaron isn’t a Luddite…and neither am I. In fact, among the more comprehensive solutions he proposes in the book are some that would be quite grand and sophisticated – and do-able.

If you haven’t picked up “You are Not a Gadget” yet, I suggest you do so from the local library, bookstore, or whatever digital stream you prefer.

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