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Past vs. Future at SXSW

Trends and Insight 475 Add to collection

TBWA\Chiat\Day NY Senior Digital Strategist Jared Cohen on communicative tension

Past vs. Future at SXSW

I’m not going to use buzzwords that were overused at SXSW (see: native ad, contentavising, content as a prefix before words like – cloud, newsroom, journalism and publishing). And I’m not going to point out some of the amazing giveaways (see: a mophie from Equinox, or Kale Chips from some start-up that hopefully, I can remember). What I want to talk about is the incredible tension I saw at SXSW between the past and the future regarding communication.

There were those panels I attended that only spoke to what the future could hold. Wearables seemed to be the talk of the town - and with 34 million people wearing them, why wouldn’t we start to cull the data for insight, knowledge, and the improvement of wearers’ lives? Dr. James Maas (@SleepforSuccess) spoke about the importance of measuring sleep data, “as it is the one true data point that could lead to peak performance and a successful life.”  At another panel, Can Nike Fuelband Save Lives? – the discussion was less on personal value and more on analyzing the data for the value of the community; could the data from wearables be collected to automate healthcare and improve healthcare systems? Some even asked, could wearables be gamified (oooh buzzword…) in an effort to provide incentives for people to live healthier lives? Because after all, if we are going to have a Jawbone 24 on our wrist, a HapiFork in our hand, and a Muse around our head, shouldn’t our lives get better? Our hearts clearer, our minds well-rested, our waists thinner, our treatment more accurate, our healthcare cheaper? Shouldn’t we – in this ever-connected world – get smarter?

Data surrounding us might provide insights and learning for some, but in other conversations, it was used as a pawn in the privacy war-game.  I need not add more media fodder to the exhausting coverage of both Julian Assange's and Edward Snowden’s satellite appearances. In sum, both of them felt justified in what they did. The only insight I would add is that Julian Assange appears to enjoy his celebrity status and does what he does to “poke a bear”; Snowden, on the other hand, appears to want everyone to know the bear is there, and take caution to act accordingly. In other words, Snowden’s a bit more humble than Assange and so his call for us – as the Internet’s champions – is to make it all secure while maintaining transparent - and do nothing that would violate everyone’s basic human right to access information. He said, “the NSA set the Internet on fire, and you are all the firefighters.” This will give new meaning around the office when someone yells, “fire drill.”

All this talk of the future was juxtaposed with several panels about the past. In particular, I enjoyed JumpTank's Sam Huston and Vocabulary.com's Ben Zimmer panel topic, Emoji & Texting: Is Human Language Extinct? With all our apps for short form communication, we are all using icons and abbreviations to communicate. Ben and Sam were quick to point out that this is exactly what mankind was doing 5,000 years ago. Sumerians carved pictographs into clay; Egyptians had their hieroglyphics - that emoji text from your friend with a sunglass-adored smiley face, palm tree, and martini glass? That’s essentially Cleopatra on vacation.  "There's beauty in emoji," Huston said. "It draws on our natural creativity." (insert: emoji of clapping hands)

A similar talk by Tom Standage pointed out that “Romans developed Twitter before Twitter. Pieces of papyrus limited the length of a message.”  These talks: Standage, Zimmer, and Huston, proved to me that human needs to communicate haven't changed, the technology enabling them has.  These technologies produce tons of communications (written, video, photo, or emoticon) tons of data (sleep, moving, driving, thinking, and eating patterns) that could be used to improve our lives or destroy them. However, lately, it seems, with every advancement, there is a major setback. In a more contentious panel, Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, discussed recent data breaches (from Snowden’s to Target) and identified the number one failsafe to information security – trust. That, to my knowledge, is one thing we’ve yet to perfect on the Internet; but, it’s certainly an area ripe for improvement.


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TBWA Worldwide, Fri, 14 Mar 2014 15:26:30 GMT