I’m talking about SXSW 2012 (as well as bits about the history and relevance of the event) on the WELL. [Link]
SXSW started in 1987 as a quirky event inspired by New York City’s New
Music Seminar and festival, but I didn’t get involved until 1994, when
the event added Multimedia to the mix. I’ve been going and involved in
various ways ever since. We were encouraging the producers of
Multimedia to include Internet programming, and my recollection is that
it took 2-3 years for the Multimedia conference to become
Internet-focused. The name changed to SXSW Interactive in 1999.
Interactive was at that point smaller than Music and Film, and in the
early years of blogging and social software, it became a go-to
conference to people with that focus. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a
digital technology conference, though there are always sessions that
are about tech. It’s more of a digital culture conference encompassing
a broad range of online scenes, activities, platforms etc.
As such, the conference/festival tends to reflect the state of the
online world in any given year. Following digital convergence, all
media are digital media. Analog has become a quaint exception. Given
that, there’s huge interest in all things interactive, and the festival
has become the largest of its kind – in fact there’s nothing quite
This year Internet has mainstreamed, broadband adoption is high, even
your 90 year old grandmother is liable to have a Facebook account –
probably to track what the kids are doing, but once you’re online
you’re drawn into any number of scenes and pursuits. Digital culture is
not just culture. Everything has digital implications.
So the interesting thing about SXSW this year was that there wasn’t
much new. As a friend was pointing out to me, it was less about hearing
about new cool stuff or jamming in innovative ways, and more about
exposure to the best of the best of technology and culture. The
conference is so huge, it attracts those people, and that creates a
special kind of energy, though not the same as the energy of the
festival when it was smaller, quirkier, more innovative.
And it’s a place where everybody shows up, so there are a lot of
people who have working and personal relationships online but never get
to see each other face to face; they can come together here and have
side meetings of some duration, get things done, have a brief but
deeper experience of each other.
I’ve been running around SXSW having meetings, taking notes, taking photos. Might take some time to summarize. Haven’t had time to sit still, attend to sessions, blog and tweet, and that seems to be true of various Old Hands who are here to meet specific conversations, have particular conversations, slicing the conference according to need and aspiration. For instance, I met with the brilliant and focused Amber Case to discuss cyborganics more generally and our new blog, Reality Augmented in particular. More about that in a later post.
Today, the last day of Interactive, I caught only a couple of sessions, one on Buddhism and the Internet, the other Jennifer Pahlka’s inspiring keynote about the potential for better government through digital technology. Shortly I’m introducing Bruce Sterling for his closing talk, which I’ll no doubt be tweeting live.
I used to do some live blogging and posting at these events, which is easier to do if you’re not local (which makes you a host, after all). I’m thinking it’s better to digest and sort things out before writing.
Also I’ll be holding forth about SXSW on the WELL starting March 15.
Another SXSW coming up; it’ll be good to see old friends and make new connections. The Austin Chronicle asked me to write something for their SXSW Interactive issue; that led to an interesing interview with cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, a longer version of which I might post here later. When “bOING bOING” was a magazine, I was an associated editor listed as “cyborganic jivemeister,” and the magazine I published, FringeWare Review, focused quite bit on “cyborging.” Originally a science fiction term, a mashup of “cybernetic organism,” the term represents a potentially huge field of study – how humans interact with, and how human experience is enhanced by, digital technology. If you’ll be at SXSW Interactive, don’t miss Amber’s keynote Sunday, March 11, 2pm at the Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5 (#SXAmberCase). Meanwhile after the interview was done she and I kept talking, and will be working on a project together, a blog on the subject of augmented reality.
Fabulous talk by Jason Roberts of “The Better Block: A Living Charrette”, presented at TedX Austin. You should watch this… twice. These guys don’t wait around to make the world better.
(Incidentally, if you want to know more about the charette concept, the book below is a good reference.)
I shot this video of Bruce at an EFF-Austin-sponsored event February 25 at ATX Hackespace. We were rallying the troops. “You will not have the Internet that you had 20 years ago, that’s not possible. But you don’t have to roll over at the site of bluster from the Internet’s increasingly desperate enemies…”
Google-funded Code for America was in Austin Saturday for a codeathon using data accessible via the city’s data portal. I dropped by the geek chic coworking facility Conjunctured, where the codeathon was happening, and hung out long enough to get a sense of the projects the ~40 coders were tackling. Those included a Bike Accident and Route Safety app, an app for finding miscellaneous stuff around town, and a “garden dating” app (to help people who want a community garden find a space). What was missing? For at least one project (Find It), there were fewer sources of data than the developers would’ve liked. I realized that it’s not enough to bring coders together to create apps – we should also be cultivating data sources. A project to build databases and facilitate citizen input would be a logical complement to the various codeathons.
In 2009, Howard Rheingold created an excellent mini-course in network literacy, a substantial resource for those who want to learn more about the Internet. Here’s the introductory video:
Howard’s written a book on network and digital literacy called Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.
As a follower of the “Quantified Self” work catalyzed by Kevin Kelly et al, I was eager to see Laurie Frick’s exhibit “Quantify Me” at “women and Their Work” – Marsha and I hung out there last night exploring the aesthetic representation of Frick’s mind.
Using her background in engineering and technology she explores self-tracking and compulsive organization. She creates life’s most basic patterns as color coded charts. Steps walked, calories expended, weight, sleep, time-online, gps location, daily mood as color, micro-journal of food ingested are all part of her daily tracking. She collects personal data using gadgets that point toward a time where complete self-surveillance will be the norm.
Though I’m interested in the subject, I’m not into self-surveillance because it takes too much metatime. I’m a cyborg at heart, but not particularly organized about my cyborganic data. Building a project like this around it is a way to make it more attractive to track and evaluate processes of body and mind.
New short story collection from Bruce Sterling.
“He’s the legendary Cyberpunk Guru. He roams our postmodern planet, from the polychrome tinsel of Los Angeles to the chicken-fried cyberculture of Austin… From the heretical Communist slums of gritty Belgrade to the Gothic industrial castles of artsy Torino… always whipping that slider-bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable.
“He’s a Californian design visionary. He’s an European electronic-art curator. He’s a Swiss professor of media philosophy. He’s a Prophet of Augmented Reality, even. He’s an author, journalist, editor, critic, theorist, futurist, and blogger. Obviously he’s pretty much anything that he can get his hands on.
“And he never stops typing. This sixth collection of his fantastic stories is a comic arsenal of dark euphoria. It’s even weirder, harsher and more twisted than the scary decade that inspired it. Boy, that’s saying something.”
NASA’s created a topographic view of the moon. Sez Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) from Arizona State University in Tempe. “We can now determine slopes of all major geologic terrains on the moon at 100 meter scale. Determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the moon.”
Tree Bressen, guest-posting at Dave Pollard’s “How to Save the World” blog, has a helpful summary of consensus process mistakes and barriers, and how to avoid them. This is a followup to Pollard’s earlier post, “When Consensus Doesn’t Work.”
In my experience, a good first step is to admin that consensus is hard, in fact that all social/communication processes are difficult. To have a productive meeting resulting in a decision by consensus requires leadership, and the leader’s agenda should be more about achieving consensus than getting a particular result. The word for this kind of leadership is facilitation. A good facilitator parks her ego outside the door, and has no preferred outcome other than consensus. One reason the consensus process is hard is that the facilitation mind-set is hard to develop. The set of consensus mistakes presented by Bressen could also be characterized as signs of poor facilitation. E.g. “when the facilitator is also the person offering information and context on an issue, it lessens safety for those who may disagree with the general thrust, putting them immediately on the defensive.”
A truly democratic political process would require a facilitated conversation producing consensus decisions. This is what I see the Occupy groups trying to do with General Assemblies; their success would depend on the quality of emergent leadership and the degree to which the emergent leaders understand facilitation and consensus. Occupy points to a crucial issue, that political leaders are not leading by consensus, and their decisions are driven by self-interest rather than commitment to greater good of all. Political self-interest is always present, but consider Plunkitt’s concept of “honest graft.” In a meeting run by a selfish leader, dissatisfaction is probable and mutiny is always possible, especially where there’s a strong expectation that leadership will honor consensus. In the national ongoing “meeting” that is U.S. politics, I would argue that consensus is broken and backlash is likely unless leaders left and right start listening to the real concerns of real people.
We’ve been hearing for two decades now about television/computer/Internet convergence. Televisions sets today are advanced digital products, and we connect computers and specialized set-top boxes to ’em, but they’re still primarily display devices.
In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson writes that Jobs ““very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant.”
Jobs told Isaacson that “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
More on the Jobs/Apple vision of convergence here.
I’m imagining a media device that, like the Internet, swallows all other forms: television set, movie theatre, stereo, juke box, etc. But it would also be interactive, a window on the rest of the world. This isn’t exactly cutting edge – those who think about such things expected it before now.