SXSWi: Innovators Win, Everyone Else Loses

by francine Hardaway on March 15, 2010

SXSW is a celebration of innovation: in film, music, and interactive technologies. This is the third time I’ve gone to SXSWi, and every year I am happier I spent the time and treasure to attend. Yesterday I went to perhaps the best session I attended this year, Andrew Keen’s intimate talk on ¬†“Is Innovation Fair?” ¬†Andrew is a highly educated dude who spoke without notes, slides, or external props. He actually used his brain in his talk. No Prezi, no Powerpoint. And he provoked much thought inside me on the nature of innovation. Everyone says we need more of it — but do we? Can we really absorb any more of it? I’m an innovator, an early adopter, a change-junkie. But what about the people around me?

In the course of an hour, Andrew covered the history of philosopy from Socrates to social media, pointing out that throughout history man has searched for ideal forms that don’t change, and has still been caught up in the whirlwind of change. And every century, the pace gets faster.

This, of course, is my “objective” interpretation. Andrew’s more controversial position is that we worship innovation for its own sake, especially at SXSW, without remembering that with all change there are winners and losers. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the peasants lost, and the manufacturing giants won. Now the current wave of innovation is washing over, for example, the newspaper industry, and the “crowd” appears to be winning. A major moment of social Darwinism is upon us.

Here are some of the implications of the crowd’s victory:

1) Brands that have spent years and billions to build themselves get destroyed overnight, erasing billions of dollars of equity for investors (Toyota)

2) A cadre of elites, Keen calls them dismissively “A-List Bloggers,” emerges and controls public opinion ( Red State Blog, Daily Kos). They are the new thought leaders.

3) The social contract breaks down as traditional government collapses under the weight of individual extremist factions who don’t want to pay taxes for things they can’t see, don’t want their privacy controlled, don’t want corporations controlling Congress

4) Jobs vanish and never come back as film, journalism, and music are sucked into the online community and become “free” and communication becomes instantaneous

5) The individual (the consumer, customer, client, patient) is overwhelmed with data points, drowned in the real time stream

6) The cry for curation becomes louder and louder

7) The new curators create a revolution in and of themselves, causing further “creative destruction”

8) Patients are empowered, and the entire practice of medicine must change

9) Students are customers/consumers, and the education system of the 19th century is overthrown

10) If you are not an innovator, you are not destined to survive.

The celebratory party atmosphere at SXSW is a Mardi Gras mask that hides the incredible change through which we are now living. As Keen reminded me yesterday, “history is written by the winners.” SXSW is a convention of winners. Survivors. Darwinians. Swimmers afloat in the real time swim.

Life jackets may be in order for everyone else.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

tdhurst March 15, 2010 at 10:30 am

I love this guy and I don't even know him.

Very refreshing to see someone using philosophy instead of twitter in a presentation about social media.

hardaway March 15, 2010 at 10:34 am

You WOULD love him Tyler. Wish you were here.

tdhurst March 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

Some day!

This is the sort of presentation I really admire.

Meryl Steinberg @meryl333 March 15, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I find myself nodding in agreement with the points you've posted. Change is inevitable. Innovation is good and necessary. And yet, not always. Actively seeking constant change is being worshiped as a great endeavor even when the real life value for the change is dubious. What is a “win” anyway? What are we winning? What ideals and goals do we value in the quest? Hackers creating gimmicky changes for the fun of it are not necessarily creating fun or value for masses of non-geek users. I counsel several small business owners / local professionals who find the constantly changing platforms and tools daunting. In the meantime, our engagement as citizens seems to rise and fall with the latest trending topic. Lots of change, yet are we going deep enough? Are we sticking with the stuff that matters?

hardaway March 16, 2010 at 10:23 am

And that's the question Andrew's talk raised in me, a person who at least
tries out every new shiny object:-) I can change, I love change, I do change
— and in some ways my life is amazingly improved (look at all the wonderful
people I have met on Twitter, including you), and yet my back is worse,
because I sit at a computer more:-) It's a tradeoff.

lindavandevrede March 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm

“We worship innovation for its own sake,” much like we unfortunately tend to worship youth over age. Trying to keep up with the swimming, however, is what keeps life interesting!

Meryl at Beanstalk March 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

Yes, I too am thrilled with SM and the people I've met through it. Yes, everything is a tradeoff. And yet. As individuals and as a society, we move forward when we set our mind to one thing and pursue it with great intention. Focus on the War on Poverty made great progress in housing, education and advancement for the poor. The Space Race made great advancements in science. The Social Media media tools have great potential for social change that I value… as well as change that I do not value. From where I sit (and I fully acknowledge my limitation of view) it appears that the best and brightest are putting most of their effort hoping to make billions on the next whiz bang toy. It also appears that topics /causes like #Iran trend only to be left behind for the next cool thing to engage the crowd. What I see is a lot of potential along with lots of distractions and too little discipline for sustained focus for advancing higher goals/ideals for ourselves and others. Let's see what we do with the potential. ( meryl 333 twitter )

tdhurst March 20, 2010 at 7:50 pm

It's okay, you're still useful. Latte?

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