SXSW Interactive: Why the projected Twitter feed is like a car accident
A sketch I made of what the audience looked like from our perspective: everyone sitting forward, but looking to my upper left at the Twitter feed as we spoke.
It’s disconcerting to speak on a panel to hundreds of people at the South by Southwest conference in Austin and have almost NO ONE looking at or listening to you!. You theatrically pound the table, wave your arms and throw your best intonation at them, but to no avail! And those who are occasionally looking at you are doing so with a clear look of feigned interest, the same sort of dull, sightless look that frequent flyers give to flight attendants as they demonstrate the use the oxygen mask.
So what’s going on here? Why did all these people come to see us just to ignore us? Are we boring them? No, but the audience has been offered a better, more irresistible experience that they can’t ignore. Behind us, on a screen the size of a brownstone, is a visual display of brain candy, some Prezi magic that’s streaming tweets from the audience, a cacophony of highlights, commentary, analysis, jokes and criticism. It was like streaming heroin, and everyone had become addicted and were loath to turn away. They were like rubberneckers driving by a car accident who are praying that they don’t see a dead body (or slamming tweet), while praying that they do. Even EYE wanted to be looking back at the feed instead of listening to us!
Why would they listen to real voices drone on when the really good stuff is being digitally filtered for them. It’s the difference between reading a press release and a news article that puts it all into perspective. We’ve grown up in a sound-bite culture driven by television news shows that do things like condense 45-minute interviews with a U.S. President loaded with content down to, ‘Americans demand jobs!.” (Okay, I concede the sound-bite quote was awesome whenever George Bushisms, like: ”Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”) In a hurried society, sound-bites of information without context are the new norm.
- One was doing the listening, translating and interpreting what was being said. This takes the skill of a seasoned United Nations translator or a graphics recorder, those people who draw speeches on huge boards in real time, like my friend Sunni Brown (I hope you went to her wonderful SketchCamp yesterday!). You have to somehow listen to what’s being said while, AT THE SAME TIME, translating what has already been said into another language (verbal or visual).
- The rest were mostly ignoring us and reading the Twitter feed.
Hundreds of people came to hear us. That’s my wife, Dorsey, in green, and Charlie’s wife, Elena, next to her. Even THEY were watching the Twitter feed. Dorsey tried to make me feel better by saying it was a horrible distraction (that I think, like everyone, she loved to read it!)
But you know what, we didn’t mind…