Time to get real

There is a refreshing directness and honesty about many of the talks and panel discussions here, something that I think not only comes from having the spotlight of a couple of thousand people trained on your every word (when not competing for attention with their phone) but from the entrepreneurial background of the speakers. There is no cushion for start-ups, they must fail learn and adapt faster than anyone else which makes what they have to say in terms of what works and doesn’t so much more believable.

The vast majority of speakers also have an immense passion for their subject. This is essential, as if they can’t get excited about their topic, it is unlikely the audience will either. Kevin Bacon talked about the achievements of his 6degrees organisation with conviction and humility that made for a great connection with the audience. Plus who can’t get stoked by appearing in his Vine? We’re all one degree now.

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However it is totally possible to speak with passion without evangelising and have a grown-up conversation about the hopes and fears for the subject in question. The lack of over the top hyperbole and promises that digital can solve all your problems is something which I think we could all benefit from. The reality is that we’ve all heard digital technology being over-sold back home which often leads to disappointment, distrust and cynicism.

Having a more direct dialogue means that it is easier to spot things that don’t quite sit right and filter, debate, reject or build.

Yesterday I highlighted the trend towards focusing on the mind-set and needs of the end user to succeed, a notion absent from the concept of a talk on the potential for preserving the ‘digital body’ after death so that relatives could ‘interact, share favourite memories and re-live pleasurable experiences’ with the deceased. Photographs were cited as the past means of re-connecting with lost ones as if they were taken solely with that purpose and not for sharing while still alive.

The speaker talked academically about the technology but there didn’t seem to be any nod towards whether this was in the best interests of for the (expired) end-user and least of all their remaining friends and family. Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror dystopia is arriving faster than you think if we don’t take the time to assess the costs as well as the benefits of new technology.

To see live photos of SXSW view PHD’s Pinterest page.

Simon Harwood, Planning Director for innovation & insight at PHD UK. Follow @sharwoodster @PHD_UK

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