A Tribute To Big Ideas

on 03 | 16 | 2011

Posted by: Kevin Buckby

The buzz this week has mostly been about SXSW, and in particular speculation over who would enjoy the sort of break-out success seen at previous events by companies such as Foursquare. A lot of attention in particular has been given to group messaging apps, which seems appropriate given their obvious utility at an event like SXSW. My interest, however, has been more on the event itself, and its emergence as a must-attend event in the growing market of converged technology and culture gatherings. SXSW is a bonanza of tech geeks, musicians, filmmakers and innovators talking about technology and culture. For those of us involved in the day to day machinations of Silicon Valley, it’s sometimes worth stepping back to take stock of the advancements that have been made in technology, beyond simply feature-function, and to consider the broader impact technology is having on what it means to be a connected human in 2011. The conflation of technology and culture at events like SXSW is a good example of how deeply ingrained technology now is in the day to day lives and culture of society.

The showcase for integrated thinking is, of course, TED. The event was first staged in 1984, the same year that Microsoft launched Windows and made computers accessible to the masses, since when the distant idea of a personal computer in every home has become the reality of a personal computer in every pocket. Who could have foreseen then the global democratization of information, mass instant communication, spontaneous, on-the-spot content creation and distribution, or the progress that would be made towards connecting the world’s population? Information and communication have changed the very nature of the human experience, a clear example of which was seen during the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which was broadcast live around the world, often from ad-hoc eye witnesses. As the live images from cell phones were consumed by millions worldwide, social media was facilitating real time communication between participants and witnesses as events unfolded on the ground.

The daily conversation in Silicon Valley can at times seem obsessed with the incremental improvements we are all working to achieve. New companies are launched, new products released and features designed, all of which build on the work that has come before. Events like SXSW and TED are a reminder of the broader narrative arc of the technology industry, and the impact that those working in the technology industry are having on the trajectory of human society.