When the roots of democracy entangle in tech
“Keep Austin Weird”, is the motto of the city. #SxSW reflects this weirdness to perfection. Centered in a very conservative stare –try getting a beer in Irving, Texas, and you will most probably be hanged, as it is dry county – , Austin is the city of freedom, free thinking, and creative minds. Cannabusiness, smoked BBQ, hippies, (cyber)punks and creative entrepreneurs make this city thrive.
Since the beginning of SxSW Interactive, the impact of technology on humans and humanity has taken a very central part in the lineup of the festival. As the tech and tech platforms became more sophisticated, the discussions on the impact on humanity heated up. Now that the roots of tech, platforms and applications seem to have an impact on the very roots of our democracies, the debates are steaming hot. Carefully rolled out logarithms coupled with demagogic propaganda and programmatic message delivery based on psychographic and sociographic data seems to be the winning cocktail to get people elected. Even presidents.
The politicians were here at Southby, loud and clear, drawing more crowd than some of the short-skirted high-heeled stars from the Film offering.
Skynet or the return of the Jedi
This is an important sign. While over the past years only few politicians played the apprentice sorcerer on social platforms and digital media, this year’s invasion of politicians, political analysts, regulators, and party high-rollers proves how much tech became entangled in politics, and how politics entrenched itself in every pore of our cultural and creative lives.
With an evil emperor on the US throne, who rules on one-liners, tweets, popularity scores and memes, it became clear to all that winning will mean having a perfect mastery of digital and social media. Winning from the Skynet of political programmatic and its stupidifying fake news will require a candid capacity in driving the political agenda through the same news channels.
John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, Beto O’Rourke, senator Elizabeth Warren, ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, senator Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, even a Bernie Sanders did a video-ed fly-by from Iowa. It’s clear that the presidential hopefuls got SxSW very high on their agenda.
The most massive crowd was drawn by the young and up-and-coming political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, more commonly known by her digital call sign #AOC. She out-starred most movie stars in sheer star capacity, and received certainly far more attention than the Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities in Austin.
It has to be said that Ocasio-Cortez was particularly busy. On top of her featured session, the New York freshman representative appeared in on-stage interviews and attended an event to promote the new Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House,”. This documentary followed her 2018 political campaign as one out of four female progressive candidates.
As Europeans, we often get the political landscape through Trumpenian lenses. The Trump camp colors Ocasio-Cortez as a young witless chick, who will be blasted back to her waitress job in no time.
I beg to differ: AOC does not look the senseless bimbo from the Bronx that her adversaries would like you to believe. I saw a young charismatic woman, sharp as nails, quick as lightning, determined, on top of facts and figures, with a clear and penetrating mind. She was so quick, that the dullness of the reporter interviewing her painfully stood out. For future debates, quicker reporters will have to be sent into the field!
But it does not matter what I think of AOC. One can notice how she is carefully building reach and credibility, how she is developing herself into the absolute champion of social networks. The young woman is the only one with an impact on Twitter that rivals Donald Trump. She is clearly ambitious, and wants to play the long game: “We’ve become so cynical, that we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude. We view ambition as youthful naiveté when … the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision.”
AOC’s appearance at SxSW is smart. She is still too young to be a presidential candidate, but she showed press, republicans and conservatives alike that she already draws a much bigger crowd than the candidates in the race for the upcoming elections. The progressive, indie-alternative cyberpunk rooted crowd at the festival clearly saw something of a “New Hope” in the elegant New Yorker.
Weapons of mass influence
Politicians, tech tycoons and C-level suits alike draw more and more on the plethora of communication and media tech that still is at the core of SxSW. This technology is powerful, targeted, precise, and impactful. It’s increasingly becoming the “Force” as in Star Wars. I can only hope that the coin flips to the good side of the force. In the wrong hands, our communication platforms, connective science and message wizardry become weapons of mass destruction. It is already happening.
We need new politicians, analysts and journalists to be up for the task.
May The Force be with them.