SXSW? Forget About It

You’re more forgetful than you might think.

Almost every bit of data you encounter daily is forgotten. You forget the exact number of dishes you left in your sink, you forget the number of paces you walked from your bed to your bathroom, you forget the car licence plates you see as you drive to work, you forget most of the words you read at work, and you forget precisely what everyone ordered at the office happy hour.

It turns out that this is true of most any animal. For example, since the early 1970s, fruit fly researchers have been using sophisticated behavioral, genetic, molecular, and neurobiological methods to dissect the brain’s mechanisms of the acquisition, storage, retrieval, decay, and yes, extinction of memories.

But why does our brain kill memories? Because, simply, if you remembered everything you’d quickly have information overload.

At the popular South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas this week, information overload is happening not only in real life but also online. As journalist Daniel Terdiman points out at CNET News, while Twitter has been useful for finding friends and event sessions and parties at SXSW in the past, the growth of both SXSW and Twitter has resulted in so many people using it at SXSW 2009 that it is hard to keep up with all the…information.

More information doesn’t mean better knowledge. Thus, as Clay Shirky famously quipped, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.”

We’re surrounded by information and filters. Colleges are filters for knowledge. Libraries are filters for books. Supermarkets are filters for food. Movie theatres are filters for films. NBC Nightly News is a filter for the mainstream headlines. RSS feeds are a filter for blogs.

Twitter is experiencing huge growth that shows no sign of abating soon. And as far back as two years ago there were international Twitter ‘clones’ – now there are many more. Yet, filter technology is lagging far behind microsharing technology.

Perhaps even more important is that while attending events people tend to filter on-the-go using mobile devices like Apple’s relatively powerful iPhone. But no one can keep up with over 1,000 tweets per hour while consciously attending an event in real life. So, when developing filter technologies, both the power user measuring public sentiment on an office computer and the mobile enthusiast on the road are important clients to keep in mind.

You can safely forget most of what happened at SXSW 2009. But how do you find the things worth remembering?

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This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Mark Oakes Says:


    Thanks. Short/insightful. Social Networking is a very interesting paradigm. On one hand it allows you to interact with an ever-broadening circle of ‘loose ties’ but it can be very time consuming. While reading this I was reminded of a quote by Emerson: “…As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble..” Our filters (- and the process of filtering) is a principle that we have to guard closely in our lives or the magnetic nature of social networking can have a tendency to become ‘urgent’ versus ‘important’. Again, thanks for the insights and reminder. – M

  2. Carmen Villadar Says:

    As much as I believe that nothing is really original but simply re-gurgitated into new packaging, I feel the same way about all the babble that’s out there on anything.

    I’ve refrained from adding my own personal accounts on world news or international tweets because somewhere out there, it’s been said before, usually in a better way. I will however, stress something if I happen to be in that mood.

    I agree with what you’ve shared in this article. Information overload, very well put, IS filter failure.

    With regards to your question, “How do you find things worth remembering?” I haven’t a clue. I still forget what day it is. :-)

  3. Marilyn Clark Says:

    I’m beginning to think it’s about serendipity. I can’t possibly read every tweet that every person I follow writes, and I miss some of the brilliant ones. The ones that matter jump out, and catch my eye, or get retweeted and I catch them all later.

    The filters ARE getting better though, so I’m getting more disciplined about applying them. Thanks for sharing your insight and that brilliant quote from Clay Shirky.

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Is Anyone Listening to Social Media Anymore? | SocialButterfly Says:

    [...] Drapeau (aka @cheeky_geeky) shares this observation based on his post, “SXSW? Forget It,” where he reminds us that we biologically can only remember so much mentality. And thus, [...]

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