SXSW started in 1987 as a quirky event inspired by New York City’s New
Music Seminar and festival, but I didn’t get involved until 1994, when
the event added Multimedia to the mix. I’ve been going and involved in
various ways ever since. We were encouraging the producers of
Multimedia to include Internet programming, and my recollection is that
it took 2-3 years for the Multimedia conference to become
Internet-focused. The name changed to SXSW Interactive in 1999.
Interactive was at that point smaller than Music and Film, and in the
early years of blogging and social software, it became a go-to
conference to people with that focus. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a
digital technology conference, though there are always sessions that
are about tech. It’s more of a digital culture conference encompassing
a broad range of online scenes, activities, platforms etc.
As such, the conference/festival tends to reflect the state of the
online world in any given year. Following digital convergence, all
media are digital media. Analog has become a quaint exception. Given
that, there’s huge interest in all things interactive, and the festival
has become the largest of its kind – in fact there’s nothing quite
This year Internet has mainstreamed, broadband adoption is high, even
your 90 year old grandmother is liable to have a Facebook account –
probably to track what the kids are doing, but once you’re online
you’re drawn into any number of scenes and pursuits. Digital culture is
not just culture. Everything has digital implications.
So the interesting thing about SXSW this year was that there wasn’t
much new. As a friend was pointing out to me, it was less about hearing
about new cool stuff or jamming in innovative ways, and more about
exposure to the best of the best of technology and culture. The
conference is so huge, it attracts those people, and that creates a
special kind of energy, though not the same as the energy of the
festival when it was smaller, quirkier, more innovative.
And it’s a place where everybody shows up, so there are a lot of
people who have working and personal relationships online but never get
to see each other face to face; they can come together here and have
side meetings of some duration, get things done, have a brief but
deeper experience of each other.
This week, on October 20, a diverse assortment of forward-thinking, Internet-savvy, solutions-oriented people gathered in New York City for Contact Summit, a project-focused event organized by Doug Rushkoff and Venessa Miemis. I was originally planning to attend, and was plugged into the small team of organizers. I couldn’t make the event, but have been available as a resource for organizers of related global Meetups, and will help sustain the converation following the event.
Doug had created a prologue video for the remote Meetups scheduled to occur synchronous with the main event. Here’s a summary of his comments in that video – this gives a good idea what the gathering was about:
It’s time to take back the net. Currently the Internet is much too concerned with marketing, IPOs, and the next killer app, and too little concerned with helping human beings get where we need to go. We want to use the Internet effectively to promote better ways of living, doing commerce, educating, making art, doing spirituality. To collaborate on ideas about how to use the net well. There are a lot of projects that need our assistance. From Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, people are rising up. We need solutions. Contact is about finding the others, and working and playing with them to find solutions to age-old problems. In New York on October 20th, we’re having unconference-style meetings plus a two hour bazaar where people will demo their projects. We’ll select projects that most need help, help them get funding and move forward. What it’s really about is planting a flag in the sand, saying the Internet is really about us, not about aiding the bottom line of a few corporations. This goes as deep and as far as we want to take it. The Summit is just a trigger point. It’s time to fold the fringes of the Internet back into the middle and re-ignite the passion and practicality of the Internet. If there were another name for Contact, I would call it “Occupy the Net.” We will collaborate to bring disparate projects with similar goals into harmony, so that anything we can dream will emerge.
Here’s a list of the winning projects from the Bazaar:
- Freedom Tower, Free Network Foundation.
- Freedom Box
- 3D Printing: Community Collaboration Catalyst at the Fayetteville Free Library
Here’s a list of winning sessions (selected by attendees):
Upgrading Democracy: Representation is a fundamental concept of our governance, but is encoded in the technology of the 18th century. The modern networked world enables a truer form of representation known variously under the names Dynamic Democracy, Liquid Democracy, and Delegable Proxy voting.
Local Foodsharing platform: I don’t have details on this yet
Kick-Stopper – Crowdsourced Unfunding: This group is dedicated to creating online organizing tools to organize large scale divestment and debt strike campaigns. Join here: http://groups.google.com/group/debt-strike-kick-stopper
Online General Assembly: This group folded itself into the Upgrade Democracy group, but has its own mandate: to create an online version of the General Assembly technique (as practiced by Occupy Wall Street) for consensus building.
Collaboration Matchmaking Application: The idea is to create an application that helps creators, particularly artists, find collaborators on projects. During the final session on this concept, participants decided that this project should grow at its own pace and with a relatively smaller circle.
DJ Lanphier shot video at the event, and has gradually been uploading those to http://www.youtube.com/contactsummit. Here’s an example, a video of Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation: “We are discovering together how we should be working.”
Particulars: The event is November 13th at 7:30pm or 9:30pm, featuring Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, John Pointer, and the Sangra del Sol Dance Troupe. Tickets are $100 apiece, $50 of which is tax-deductible. There’s also a silent auction, and a cash bar.
To by tickets, click on desired show time link below and enter the promotional code “ADOPTIONROCKS” (all caps)
7:30 pm link = http://budurl.com/adopt1
9:30 pm link = http://budurl.com/adopt2
If you want to sponsor or need more information, contact Mike Chapman – firstname.lastname@example.org