I have just returned from my first trip to Austin and SXSW Interactive. I work at a media production company on the digital content side. I worked at a major television network for 8 years. I love content. I love art. I love entertainment. I hate social media.
I went to South by Southwest for fun… tagging along with people from one of the most forward thinking production companies in the entertainment industry. I thought I was going for the parties, the alcohol and the meat (yes, there was a lot of meat!), but instead I have learned something so much more important. In a world that has become so fragmented, disconnected and technological, are we all substituting social media for art and innovation?
I am working to produce the album and help manage the career of an amazing musician. He is an artist. He likes to hole up in his house and watch Jack Bauer and write songs until 6 o’clock in the morning. Do you know what he has been doing lately? He’s been learning how to use Twitter. Is he working to write, create or make music that is the beauty in the world and what gives humanity to our race? His songs hit my soul every time I listen to them – even after the hundredth time. However, until he figures out how to captivate an audience in 140 characters or less, no one else will ever know or listen. And, yes, of course SXSW is in fact, also a music festival, but with acts like Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z headlining this year, is it really going to be possible for the struggling lesser-known musicians to break through without first having an online social media presence? Can they even get booked or an audience at one of the less visible stages in one of the darks corners of the city unless they have already created any internet buzz? We’ll see, but I venture to guess, no.
Don’t get me wrong. I use Twitter, I use Facebook (I will not use Foursquare because, well, that just creeps me out) and I post my pictures. I use it to show everybody in my life what I am doing. I do not underestimate the power of social media and the effects that it has had on our culture. It has created celebrities, it has created relationships, it has created art, and it has become a forum for social activism in a society that has become very lackadaisical about any action to help a cause. It is easy. In order to feel empowered and help the Kony 2012 movement, you click a button. There are not stakes, there is only information. But where is the passion? The interaction? We have become so intent upon sharing our lives, are we forgetting to stop and live them? And what happens to those people, artists and causes that can’t seem to figure out a way to grasp and or figure out how to adapt? Are we really okay just keeping those voices quiet?
SXSW Interactive is a Mecca for nerds, geeks and the cultural influencers to find out what is happening in the digital world; where they should invest their time, money and energy. I am one of those cultural influencers. Do you know what my favorite panels were about? Space. I’m not kidding. In my career I have worked with countless actors, musicians, and directors, and while I still get giddy while drinking a beer next to Willem Dafoe in the Austin Airport, do you know who I was the most excited to see? Astronaut Ron Garan. Why? Because he reminded me of a time when we cared about innovation, science and moving our culture forward in ways that we could not have even imagined as possible. Do you know what I learned? The space program has been responsible for medical imaging, firefighting equipment, and the very satellites that are used to watch the television content we all love so much. Do you know what I learned is the scariest part – because we as a culture no longer care, those programs are coming to a halt, and soon may be stopped. Space – could be our future, it could save our species from extinction as our population growth continues to use all of our resources, but what are 10,000 people getting together to talk about at a conference? The new app that will tell everyone in your life what time you wake up and go to sleep.
Make no mistake, in the same way that I hate social media, I see its value. I am not advocating for shutting down Facebook (gasp). I know I have connected with people that I love having in my life that I never would have without it. Throughout the panel on space people were tweeting to get the word out about what they were learning. I decided to watch Downton Abbey – which I now love – because I had to know why everyone was talking about a show that was on PBS. Social media does give the musician a way and a forum to reach his fans, and for them to interact with him. That is special. It makes people feel special, and the value of that should not be underestimated. I just have to ask – can we please also focus on other things? The new app Highlight is not going to create any new scientific breakthroughs. I wish it would, but it won’t. While it might create jobs, it is not going to create the many new industries that our economy desperately needs right now. A SXSW panel that I sadly missed because I was at aforementioned favorite space conference: “Social Media is a Bubble and SXSW is a fad”. Can we please make this bubble pop already? Move on to also putting together a conference of 10,000 people that come together and talk about how we can make NASA interesting and how people can actually discover great new music again? Please?
An End Thought: The irony is not lost upon me that if anybody were to read this, it will be through, and because of social media. I know you have to use the tools that are available to you. I also don’t claim that I am going to stop using social media to get the word out about the next project I am working on, nor do I have a true solution, because I am not providing any useful alternatives. However, I also believe that until we as a culture have these conversations, nothing will ever change. Thank you for reading – I have to go check my Facebook and Twitter feeds now.