I've attended the South by Southwest film festival a few times. This year, I decided to concentrate on the interactive portion, which seems to be taking over the festival, as well as the world. It is interesting to be surrounded by so many people who seem to be a step ahead of the rest of us in designing the next phase of the virtual world.
I attended a panel this morning, led by a couple of New York Times reporters (Jennifer Preston and Brian Stelter), which took as a given that social media has been instrumental to the organizers of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. This is hard to deny. As an example, someone mentioned that people in Tunis were Tweeting the locations of snipers in the city, to help others avoid dangerous areas. Yet some of the panelists also acknowledged that organizing can sometimes be accomplished just as effectively without social media. Mubarak at one point turned off access to the Internet, which may have had the effect of forcing many organizers--who could no longer spend their time communicating with one another, and with the outside world--out into the street to lead actual demonstrations. In addition, some dictatorial regimes have been learning to use these tools themselves, both to entrap rebels, as well as to spread misinformation. The journalists I heard this morning also recognized the need to "curate" or fact-check, rumors spread by social media, before helping to disseminate them further.
I also heard an interesting talk today by journalism professor Jay Rosen on the continuing conflicts between journalists and bloggers. Although everyone agrees that we should have gotten past this conflict, it seems to persist, Rosen thinks, because of some deep-seated neuroses on the part of both traditional journalists and of bloggers, each of which in some ways hates and yet aspires to be the other. Rosen assembled some very funny quotes illustrating these neuroses, some of which he posted on his blog prior to his talk. My favorite was from a Tribune blogger who said that a traditional newspaper reporter complaining about bloggers sounds like an old grouch yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. I agree with Rosen that it is time to bury this conflict. For myself, however, I don't feel competitive or envious of traditional journalists because for some reason I don't consider what I am doing to be journalism. Maybe I should, but I don't.
As for this kid (Seth Priebatsch) who gave a keynote address about how the next ten years is going to be the time that the "game layer" will be built--just as the "social layer" was built over the past ten years--well, I'm just not sure I'm ready for that.
(photo from jaunted.com)