Austin, Where Geeks Converge

I spoke at this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, where people flock to see new films, listen to great music and imagine the tech future. It’s been called “a massive geek convergence,” and, being a geek at heart, I had an excellent time.

While writing Hamlet’s BlackBerry, I had a gut belief that many others out there were feeling like slaves to the screen and craving a new approach to digital life. I fantasized that some day there’d be a great awakening and people would come together to share ideas about how to use these amazing tools more thoughtfully, so they truly enrich our lives and help us build a better world.

Well, it’s starting to happen, and in the very places where the old philosophy I call Digital Maximalism – the more connected you are 24/7, the better – was born.

The New York Times ran a story about SXSW, and my presentation, under the headline – “All That Logging In Makes Dropping Out That Much More Difficult” – echoing the point I’ve been making for the last nine months: There’s a new consciousness emerging among the young and the idealistic that staring into screens all day turns you into a drone and conformist.

It’s starting to feel like what I’ve always imagined the late 1950s must have been like. The smartphone is becoming The Gadget in the Gray Flannel Suit. People want to break away and rediscover life’s richness.

“Dropping out” isn’t the solution. The tech vanguard has always been right about one thing:  The digital age is full of promise. It would be stupid to run away from it now, just because our twitter feeds and inboxes are driving us crazy. We can take back our lives, and the first step is changing our philosophy.

From the NYT story about SXSW:

“I was one of the earliest Twitter users,” testified one computer programmer, who said he is now designing a filter to weed out tweets. “I got into it at South by.” He was speaking from the audience during a question-and-answer session of a presentation by William Powers, the author of “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” who was there to explain “How to Liberate Yourself From Digital Addiction.”

Mr. Powers has become something of an apostle for the “get-off-line-sometimes” movement over the last nine months . . .

The full piece is here.