We are definitely living in the age of Geek Power.
Walking the halls of the circus-themed Austin Convention Center at SXSW 2010, you would have seen swarms of twenty, thirty and forty somethings, with their neck craned and their heads bowed, staring down at mobile devices and computers, on the floors, waiting in line, or perched on mod chairs and tables. After seeing all that connectivity, I've decided to hook up this post. Once I put it online, it will automatically link to my Twitter account, which then feeds into my blog and Facebook pages, which then triggers an SMS to all my friends--including Jay-Z, holla--which then prompts a link to my version of "Empire State" on YouTube.
As everyone's heard by now, Umair Haque blew his interview with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. I totally cornbraided my hair (with beads) between each of Umair's ponderously...drawn...out...words. The LA Times called it as boring as watching two grandmothers play Canasta. Haque used the interview to show off his new vocabulary (which included groundbreaking words like "awesomeness" and "betterness") and bore us about how cool Twitter was for fixing his vacation when he tweet-raged about the rogue travel agency that booked him. That is awesomeness, Umair. Those stories have been told. Don't you write for the Harvard Business Review? Evan, thank you for not walking off the stage and humiliating the poor man.
I think I am in love. I mean professionally, that is. I am in love, professionally, with Jaron Lanier. His new book, You Are Not a Gadget, caressed my nervous soul and gave me hope for the future. The little avatars in my mind are taunting me, making me worry why I, as a human, am responsible for keeping up with the intricacies of technology in order to live my life. I'm not talking about signing up for a Twitter account. I'm talking about dancing 'til four in the morning and having the time of my life, then feeling like it didn't really happen because I didn't have a digital badge to prove it. And how many of us really understand our privacy settings in Facebook? Lanier, while criticizing the "ascendancy of geek power" also believes that those same geeks, his colleagues and friends, will act responsibly with a future of humanity and democracy, not techno-feudalism, in mind.
Meanwhile, CJP Digital Media's Cleveland Wilson is onto something. In the panel on branded entertainment, he discussed the "Easy to Assemble" project that he ran marketing and distribution for IKEA. The project enlisted Illeana Douglas and Justine Bateman in a series where they battle (as themselves) for IKEA's Co-Worker of the Year award. You watch the webisodes, you vote, and Erik, the Store Manager, decides. The webisodes took the best of broadcast tradition--with seasons, bonus materials, and a star cast--to bring great content to the web, not for the web. The webisodes were beautifully shot (Cleveland and CJP understand that "social" does not mean "informal," it means "open") and hilarious to watch. The distribution was brilliant. With a zero media budget, CJP enlisted influencers like Perez Hilton to post each webisode on their site; the sites which got the most hits were written into the final episode of the season. When I hear about projects like this, I get giddy, because it's obviously about making good for the client, but it's also about making great art that is great business.
Great art is great business. Did you hear that, Upstack? What? You don't believe me? If you are still in business in December 2011, I will try your service for a very tentative side project. I love entrepreneurs and the courage they have to take risks, but I've been creating brands for fifteen years and I know that my relationships with clients and the inspiration from my colleagues is the only thing left after the paper and the pixels disappear. It is my relationship with them that inspire me to create. In Upstack, the humanity of design is just...lost. I must stop crying now, but it makes me very sad and surely if this thing takes off, I will search for Calatrava, McGuiness, and John Galt who surely left for a secret design utopia.
In closing, I'd like to congratulate Wolfram Alpha for their "Best of Show" award*. Their answer engine has so much, to use some of Umair Haque's new vocabulary, awesomeness. Yet weary of all the tech talk at the end of this interactive conference, I found myself "rekindled by a spark from another person," as Albert Schweitzer put it. This person was filmmaker Lena Dunham. I was invited to attend the SXSW Film Awards, where her film, Tiny Furniture, won the Jury Prize. The courage in her art will set you a little bit free, and I urge you to view the trailer, find out when the screening is in your area, and have a look at some of her shorts on YouTube.
There is so much hope for our future.