Letter from Austin: Why I came to SXSW
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  sxsw business social- ibmsoftware
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In 2010, a time capsule sealed in 1905 was opened in the French city of Moulins. It contained, among other things, stuffed birds, skulls, stained-glass windows, an electric chandelier and a flushing toilet. Its creator, Louis Mantin, wanted it reopened as a museum in his hometown.
In 1940, an Atlanta man named Thornwell Jacobs created his own time capsule containing – again among other things – paper mache models of fruits and vegetables, 200 books of fiction, a Donald Duck doll, a Kodak camera and a flute. It won’t be opened until the year 8113.
In 1977, a NASA time capsule project led by Carl Sagan was shot into the Milky Way Galaxy. Its contents include a gold-plated record with recordings of Bach, Mozart and Chuck Berry, greetings recorded in 55 languages and an X-ray of a hand.
The date of its opening is still TBD.
Life as it was lived
Each of these time capsules contain snapshots of life as it was lived at the moment. To their credit, their creators leave a testament to our collective achievements and a message to posterity of how we want to be remembered. When opened, the contents in turn can help us better understand the hopes, dreams and fears of the past and how far we’ve come in the intervening years.
SXSW is a conference about understanding the present and creating the future. The buzz about it began weeks ago, and is set to continue into next week. If we captured the inevitable tidal wave of tweets, check-ins and iphone snaps in a capsule and preserved it for posterity, what would it say about us? More importantly, what would we want it to say?
Perspective and context
Perspective and context are key to understanding any new phenomenon. And the current disruptions that mark our our increasingly data-driven and socially soaked era are severely lacking in both. I’ve come to SXSW to broaden my own perspective on our tech and our times, and to gain that broader context that can help me assess what’s really important to my job and to you, our readers.
But before I dive into the maelstrom of sessions, meetups, tweets, pins and check-ins, on the way here I consulted the Fall 2011 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly - the one dedicated to examining The Future.
Within its beautifully designed and perfect-bound 220 pages are the words of poets, novelists, politicians and priests stretching into Antiquity. It was a fascinating and illuminating read. Because while we struggle to grasp the privacy implications and marketing opportunities of geo-location, we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought ourselves unique in grappling with dramatic technological and social change.
What's often missing
What's often missing in the breathless coverage of the latest social app is an awareness that entire empires have come and gone without electricity or the printing press. What we need now is not another killer app. What we need is a greater perspective and a broader context to understand what that app means and why it should be considered "killer" at all. Over the next seven days, I hope to find some answers and share what I've learned with you.