Corinne Weisgerber: SXSWi Panel on Technology and Relationships
Last Friday marked not only the beginning of spring break, but it also meant a number of firsts for me: the first time attending SXSWi, the first time presenting there, the first time including a student in a panel presentation, and the first time presenting with a live backchannel (I will explain that one in a little bit).
But first a confession that would shock many Austinites: I have lived here for four years and never attended SXSW! I now realize what I missed out on: great speakers, insightful panels, innumerable networking opportunities, and an overall conference experience unmatched by any academic conference I’ve ever attended. I didn’t have much time to absorb the unique SXSWi culture before my presentation though, as my panel was scheduled on the first day of the conference.
The panel I chaired asked a question, which I think resonated with many conference goers: Is technology weakening our interpersonal relationships? It’s an obvious question to ask given our increasingly wired lives and our need for seemingly constant connection. The idea for this panel was actually hatched in my interpersonal communication class, which debated the effects of technology on interpersonal relationships on numerous occasions. One of the students in the class, Ashley Brown (’09), approached me last summer with the idea of submitting that question as a panel proposal. We did, and a few months later the panel was selected for inclusion in this year’s Interactive Festival out of more than 2300 submitted proposals. So a lot of credit for this panel actually needs to go to Ashley, my former advisee and proud graduate of St. Edward’s University!
This being the Interactive Festival, we decided to make the panel as interactive as possible, and at technology conferences such as SXSWi, that means including a live-Twitter stream in your presentation. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, imagine presenting at your favorite academic conference with a screen behind you that projects the audience’s thoughts about your presentation in real-time. Did I mention unfiltered? Having read about backchannel catastrophes before, I was a bit apprehensive about giving my audience this much power, but we figured it was worth a try. What happened as a result was the highest level of audience engagement I’ve ever experienced during a talk I’ve given. Audience members were tweeting questions, debating points amongst each other, and sharing panel ideas with people who weren’t even attending the conference.
Analysis of the tweets from our panel (using the hashtag #iprpanel) showed that we reached 100,313 people and created 438,736 impressions. In terms of disseminating your message, that definitely beats any conference I’ve ever attended. Even CNN tweeted about the panel.
Back to the panel topic though. To me, there’s no denying that technology is changing how we relate to other people – the question is whether it’s a change for the better or worse. I’m mostly interested in the question of whether our technology use is taking a toll on our real life relationships. I think a lot of people are starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of technologies (& the relationships attached to those technologies) they need to keep up with. I know I am!
For those of you who couldn’t make it to our panel, click on the link below to view the slide presentation: