Am I Too Old For SXSW Interactive Week?

No. I refuse to consider it. I’m not old, I’m in my prime.
(my 13 year old tells me that 42 is not a prime number)
I’m actually not too old for SXSWi. I don’t buy into the numbers game of age anyway. But I looked around and realized that I was older than most of the presenters and that was a little jarring. Onward.

I was called “M’aam” a lot this week. But I checked that off to being in Texas where people call each other m’aam and sir all the time out of habit. That’s not a sign.

The moment that forced me to question my age appropriate-ness of the week was this: I found myself standing in a circle of colleagues and friends (yes, most of them are  younger than I am) and realized that we were all standing in a circle, TEXTING each other. No one was talking but it wasn’t silent. We were laughing in unison at jokes and photos that other members of the group were sharing via text message. Honestly, it was creepy once I woke up and looked around and realized that I was standing within a few feet of everyone, and we were not talking to each other! Some of these people are my favorite people in the world to talk to and I haven’t seen them in months and it was my big chance to catch up.  What the?

When did we lose our human-ness to our phones? When did people talking to each other become passe? I feel like a female Rip Van Winkle who just woke up and is walking around Austin trying to figure out what the hell happened. So many people walking with their cell phones taking their attention that cars cannot drive on the streets. Throngs of texting humans clogging the roads, not even aware that there are cars trying to pass. It’s rude, but it’s also stupid.

At one point, a co-worker of mine who is really plugged in (in a good way) took my phone and added me to something called “mygroup” – it’s a new app that lets you create a group of people who can text each other all at once, and I can see the value of this. None of my griping here has anything to do with the app. But my husband happened to be standing in the same circle with all of us… and he wasn’t in the texting group, so our silence was rude, but not as rude as our collective giggles at inside jokes made via text.

On the way home, we secretly renamed the mygroup app “iClique”. Again, no fault to the great app that would help me greatly if I had a group of teens at an amusement park and needed to reach all of them instantly. It’s agreat app.

There was a great episode on Bewitched when I was a little kid where Ben Franklin came forward in time and looked around at the world we had made and the goofy hijinx of the show was all about washing machines and dish washers and modern gadgets that he couldn’t have imagined. And he was impressed. … I can’t shake the feeling that Ben Franklin would not be impressed with people who stand together in a room and send text messages instead of talking.
Say it aint so, Ben.

I don’t actually think I’m too old for interactive. I don’t think age has anything to do with what I experienced. But I do think it’s important to realize that interactive is a word we throw around when we talk about video games and ATM machines and self-check-in at the airport but what the word really refers to, especially in the context of business and marketing, is HUMAN interaction. You to me, me to you.

Tools that make one-to-many communication easier are wonderful. Please believe me. I LOVE technology. But when people take the tools to a level that remove the human experience, we’ve lost a piece of what made them valuable in the first place. Efficiency is great. Cost savings – I’m on board. Mass email? Clearly people, I’m a fan. But those work better when we put ourSELVES into the communication. Relay our emotions and thoughts as people and pull back the curtain to show people who we really are.

As small business owners and nonprofits, the responsibility for all of this rests on you. You must find a way to jump through the screen. Do this by writing in conversational copy – which just means that you write the way you speak. Use photos of yourself to make up for not sitting face-to-face and be honest. Above all, just be you.
People will respond and your business or your organization will grow.
This is the real secret to good social media marketing and engagement. Be yourself and interact.

SXSW Music week starts tomorrow and none too soon — I’m sure the panelists will stil be younger than me, for the most part. (I am on a panel on the 16th! ) But I also am planning to have a better time driving downtown. Musicians often look up because they are trying to see who that smokin’ guitar player is, sitting on the corner with a case on the ground taking change.

I love Austin. Long live SXSW.
ps – I will be speaking with Martin Atkins at Momo’s tonight, at PartySmart hosted by the Austin Music Foundation.
Free to the public! Free MmMpanadas. Come see us!

4 thoughts on “Am I Too Old For SXSW Interactive Week?

  1. Hey Julie,
    All it takes is one slight lull in the conversation, then the first person looks down at their phone, then the next, then it spreads like wildfire. Next thing you know, everyone is in their phone zone. My personal rule of thumb: Don’t be “that guy” who keeps checking the phone when face-to-face with people.
    And btw – great presentation at Alamo Drafthouse yesterday!

  2. Hi Julie,

    Great article – as someone who is heavily into tech & gadgets I can totally relate. I respectfully disagree that the human factor is being taken out of the equation because we’re still all communicating, just in another way. I’ve been in rooms where it’s next to impossible to hear someone, even though they are right next to me. Texting them eliminates that problem.

    I’m old enough to remember when email first crept into the business environment. Every single message needed to be printed, because it wasn’t “real”. Texting, video calls, etc are all becoming more & more common place and bringing human interactions to another level.

    Where there are some people who put a lot of weight in a “face to face”, I think the various other forms of interaction are quickly gaining ground and becoming just as valid.

    1. I respectfully agree with you. 🙂
      I am actually one of those people who in many cases just wants an email rather than a phone call.
      My big itch is when I’m already standing in front of you, and then you text me. And especially in
      a group, to text each other (that roome was nice and quiet) was odd at best.
      Your example of the loud room is a great exception that proves the rule.
      Part of my job is to help people use the tools we love to grow their business
      and part of that teaching now includes sharing tactics for bringing human-ness back to the table.
      Being real and genuine in an email comes across just as well as being skeezy, right?
      I see the tools as just that, tools.
      If you’re dealing with a jerk on the other end, he or she is still a jerk.
      (happily, if you’re dealing with a nice person, the same is true)
      Thanks very much for your comment. I think we’re on the same page overall and appreciate you taking the
      time to weigh in. Have a great day!

      1. Richard Israel

        We can find exceptions to everything, but when speaking in generalities… I couldn’t agree more Julie – we are all guilty of losing our human-ness.

        Is today’s generation becoming a generation of Helen Keller’s? Would that abe so bad if true? She was one of the most couragious and optimisic human’s to ever walk the planet.

        Yet, unless you really are handicapped and can’t see, hear or speak, purposely choosing to lose our human-ness by handicapping ourselves through our “smart” phones is exactly what you are pointing to as a generational gap.

        Clearly it exists – and I like you worry that it is making us all a little bit less human.

        Nothing wrong at all with interactive interaction in moderation, so long as we stop to smell the coffee, hear the music playing and once in ahwile say “hello” by looking into one another’s eye’s.

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