In shadows of hype, dialogue of 'too much' at SXSW

March 13, 2012 By JAKE COYLE , AP Entertainment Writer

(AP) -- At South By Southwest's 2012 interactive conference, there was, as usual, no shortage of eagerness for new developments and excitement for gadgetry.

What's the future of online scrapbook Pinterest? Will the location technology of apps like Glancee and Highlight upend ? What's next? And is it on Android yet?

But in the shadows of the relentless push toward new digital frontiers, there was also an undercurrent of more skeptical dialogue. This year, it seemed, there was increased debate about the possible downside to mounting technologies and the effects they may be having on our lives.

"Too much" was a phrase often uttered not just about the rising crowds of some 20,000 SXSW interactive attendees, but of tech advances into daily life.

"People are starting to make these questions out loud," says Avi Zev Weider, whose documentary "Welcome to the Machine" screened at the SXSW film festival. "I think we all make these value judgments. It's something we're going to need to think about more and more because it affects our inter-human relationships as well."

Weider's film doesn't as evil, but something innately human. Without technology, he notes, he couldn't have made his documentary and he and his wife couldn't have given birth to triplets through in vitro fertilization.

"Many of the technologies we use every day are so powerful that they do in some ways hijack our attention," says Weider. "Even though we might have a good intention, you might still find yourself at the dinner table checking your cell phone instead of talking to your kids."

Similar distraction wasn't hard to find at SXSW, where maneuvering Austin's downtown sidewalks can become fraught with peril in a tide of downcast pedestrians focused on their .

Finding the right balance could mean better management of technology or refining it.

"Our stomachs can tell us when we're full, but our brains can't tell us when we've consumed too much information," says Amber Case, a keynote speaker at SXSW and author of the upcoming book "A Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology."

As a self-proclaimed "cyborg anthropologist," Case studies the way humans interact with technology (she did her thesis on cell phone use). While she laments the obsessive trap of "compulsive loop systems" like email and Twitter, Case believes technology should be improved to more seamlessly fit into our lives. She's a co-founder of Geoloqi, a location-based platform that doesn't require constant checking, but gives users information on what's around them.

"The best technology should get out of your way and let you live your life and let you be more human, versus trying to obscure your vision and cause you to click buttons all day," says Case.

Certainly, there were a great many proclamations of tech's potential to solve problems. In a talk Monday, former Vice President Al Gore, alongside Napster co-founder Sean Parker, put it to the Internet not only to fix democracy, but also to revolutionize elections and wean people off of television.

Andrew Keen has been one of the more strident voices against the rise of social media and he has similarly dim views of the new social discovery apps. Keen, the author of the upcoming "Digital Vertigo," has twice appeared at SXSW before and often encountered a backlash for his views. But he thinks the tech community is becoming more open to criticism.

"This year I felt a very big change," says Keen. "The first two years, there was a lot more hostility."

Keen rails against the "cult of the social" and worries that we're jeopardizing privacy and liberty in the "march toward ubiquitous public-ness." But he grants that Facebook and Twitter have become part of the "socio-economic infrastructure of 21st century life," and so reconciling them is not a simple task.

"They're not just for narcissistic reasons," says Keen. "If it was just narcissism, it would be an easy thing to clean up."

Even "The Cabin in the Woods," the new horror film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard that opened the SXSW film festival, inverted the normal fears of the genre. Normally, you would expect a film about five college kids who travel to a remote country cabin far from cell service to summon fright from being disconnected, stuck in a rural backwater.

Instead, the cabin is quickly revealed to be exceptionally high-tech and therein lies the horror to come. Escaping the network is futile.

Explore further: At SXSW, apps buzz is location, location, location


Related Stories

Gore says 'democracy has been hacked' at SXSW

March 13, 2012

(AP) -- In a wide-ranging talk about the Internet and government, Al Gore urged the techie crowd at South By Southwest to use digital tools to improve government.

Trendsetters revel in technology in Texas

March 11, 2011

Innovators and trendsetters are heading to Texas for a technology festival renowned as a springboard for Web sensations such as Twitter and Foursquare.

Smartphones put the moves on social networking

March 14, 2010

Mobile social networking ruled on Saturday as the techno-hip at South By South West (SXSW) used location-based services on smartphones to track down everything from panels to parties.

Wolfram Alpha answer engine best of show at SXSW

March 15, 2010

A new Wolfram Alpha search engine that delivers factual answers to online queries instead of links to Web pages won top honors late Sunday at the South By South West (SXSW) awards ceremony.

Google Chrome scores at SXSW Interactive awards

March 16, 2011

A music and imagery website that shows off capabilities of Google's Chrome Web browser won top honors at a South By Southwest Interactive (SXSW) festival known for its technology trendsetters.

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.