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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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