En route to China, I stopped in Austin to give a talk at my first SXSW. Attendees were at 20,000 plus for interactive - 5,000 more than last year - a sign that this conference is growing in quality content or a sign that the economy is about to burst.
So what did I over hear the most at SXSW?
The internet is really important! Web 3.0 is here! The reign of the virtual! Networked ensors take over the world! This is all so new! Singularity transhumanism! Social media for good! Gaming to save the world!
These statements reflect the general level of techno-utopianism that I find at conferences on anything related to the internet. There usually is little room for critical analysis or social historicizing.
As Roy Christopher points out, we live in an age of information abundance but at times it seems like our abilities to historically contextualize current events is scarce. He's right and this is particularly true for the SXSW audience who is so focused on the "new" that the "old" seems irrelevant. I have lots of qualms with technological utopianism, but I think what's make it worse is historical amnesia. Many of the talks seem to think that the technology itself - or this year the focus was on social media or games themselves - will solve our reality and make us "better." An example of this is Simon Mainwaring's We First: How Social Media can Remake Capitalism and Build a Better World and Jane McDonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better. The ideas promoted in these books aren't necessarily wrong, but I find the analysis in these books resting more on future talk than on grounded research.
So for my first SXSW, I decided to give a talk that would not only illustrate my analysis and research on internet users in China, but also provide historical context for what we're seeing in China. I explored the idea of telling a story that would be an old one - a story that would historicize the internet so that we could see how human emotions can create powerful reactions that repeat itself in different mediums, processes, and outcomes. I did this by paralleling the contemporary panic around rural-urban migrants in Chinese internet cafes to the 20th century panic around Italian and Irish immigrant in American saloons.
I also argued that internet cafes, like saloons, are important sites of social interaction. They are places of security, safety, and stability.
Internet cafes are important because they are new third places in cities. Privately owned spaces of technology access, such as internet cafes, are the new "third places" in cities because these are the places where poor people are actively reprogramming urban space to work for them. Third places like pubs, saloons, and public spaces are important for healthy diverse cities - they allow for new forms of community to develop because they allow a greater diversity of people to gather in informal settings outside of home and work.
Here are the slides and notes for my talk. Since I wrote this talk with visuals, I suggest that you read this pdf where I put the notes below each slide; it'll probably make more sense this way!
SXSW filmed a video that will be up on youtube later, but for now, thanks so Elisha Miranda's flipcam, here's a video of the talk below. The sound isn't that great on the video, so I suggest you listen to the audio recording below.
I would love to hear your feedback in the comments below or tweet about it with the #300MM hashtag. And thank you SXSW community for all the feedback after my talk!
I really appreciated all the comments on twitter so far post-talk! Some said that my talk was among their favorites and one of the best panels at SXSW! I heart twitter for connecting me to all these people who have interest in this topic. I'm really excited to now be in touch with other people who are researching similar stuff!
A few tweets from my talk:
Thank you to friends who listened and gave me advice: Kristen Taylor, Kevin Slavin, Kenyatta Cheese, and Morgan Ames.
I also did an interview with the lovely Benjamin Walker for his WFMU radio show Too Much Information. Here's the link to the show. Thanks Benjamin!
Below are some random thoughts about my first SXSW experience SXSW!
Thanks to Glenda Bautista who has an eye on making SXSW topics more diverse, I was invited this year to be on the Future 15 series that addressed diversity on the internet. I'm not sure if I will give a talk next year at SXSW again because I felt that the conference was really US-centric. It was only after I arrived that I found out about the Technology Summitt with topic areas in China, India and more. But this was scheduled 2 days AFTER SXSW and there were no speaker names attached to any of the events. The sad thing about the size of SXSW this year was that there were TOO many panels scheduled at the same time. And the program book, online schedule, and iphone app all had different information or updated info about the panels. Most people me that my panel was undiscoverable.
Some panel highlights:
- I loved reading all the great stuff coming out of Tim Shey's Social TV panel.
- Kenyatta Cheese's panel Indie Storytelling pulled out some great questions from the audience about content and storytelling.
- Roy Christopher's panel, Disconnecting the Dots: How Our Devices are Divisive, was drawn out graphically! I'll post a link to it when he puts up the images & notes for his talk. In the meantime, he's written a lovely recap of his SXSW experience.
- And Jamie Wilkinson's Star Wars Uncut panel was just so lovely because not only did we get to hear about how it was created, we got to see the first 15min of the film!
- I'm so happy to see the lovely Nora Abousteit finally speak in person! She engaged the audience with a lovely story about Burdastyle. But Etsy - please don't host a panel in a bar - it's hard to hear your panelists with half the room drinking and schmoozing. Nora congrats on Burdastyle reaching half million users!
- I missed David Sasaski's panel on social media in Mexico, but lucky for us he's going to post the panel details on his blog! In the meantime, he's written up a wonderful review of Latin America-related events at SXSW and future Latin America meet ups!
Bad hashtags: I saw so many instances of bad twitter hashtags. But this one below from Nokia had to be the best. Come on nokia at least get your hashtags right!
change it up! It was disappointing to see that all 4 of the keynote speakers were white males. Even though there was more diversity in the keynote speaker set though still it was overwhelmingly white and male. I thought that the Future 15 panels had more diversity, but SXSW didn't make a big enough effort to promote these panels. You can't even find a list of all the Future 15 speakers. It's really disappointing when a conference becomes this big and they still are unable to find people of color to promote. There are plenty of people I would love to recommend for next years line up - and I think SXSW could open it up and take suggestions to increase the diversity of its speakers. For starters, I'll nominate a few friends - Baratunde Thurston, Nora Abousteit, Jay Smooth, and Kenyatta Cheese.
tacky, sexist, and hetero-normative messages in the green room: I loved the green room for its calming pre-panel energy. But one thing that threw me off with the sexist shit that Ink Public Relations put on the tables. These cards were scattered all over each table in the green room. The last piece of advice was completely offensive.
"A speech should be like a women's skirt: Long enough to cover the topic, yet short enough to be interesting."
After seeing this, Anetv writes on twitter "tech-centric venues wonder why they've trouble recruiting women? & ppl wonder why young girls feel that tech isn't "for them?"
Violet Blue also noted the same thing and wrote a wonderful blog post about Ink Publiciy's tip cards. I also reblogged this on my personal blog.
Lovely Film! I didn't get to see the screening of Surrogate Valentine, but according to my friend Elisha Miranda who saw it - it was amazing. Thanks Gary Chou for bringing the world another great film and giving us more Lynn Chen!
Yah new peeps! It was so lovely to finally meet people in person! And most importantly, SXSW is a time to bond with close friends.
I'll be landing in CHina in a few days and blogging more actively on BytesofChina.com. See you there!