Last week I spent a solid six days immerged in technology at SXSWi. Phone charging stations lined the walls; hashtags were passed out like they were free candy; and walkers* constantly ran into one another, nose in phone. At the end of each ten-hour day, my thumbs were cramped and my retinas burned. I was techno-whelmed.
So after two delayed flights and three hours of driving, I decided to take an electronic break, for both my brain and my USB ports. Nasal cold induced, I avoided blogging, social media, and the Internet as much as possible for three whole days. It was a wonderful experience.
As much fun as it was to learn about the founding of Pinterest, or how Soul Pancake came to be, a person can only ingest so much technology. The height of my overwhelmed-ness came at the SXSW vendor expo, where hundreds of companies combined, setting elaborate booths to draw in their prey. Their booths were colorful and lush; some even brought in their own carpets. One, my personal favorite, was furnished with entirely knitted furniture – just looking at the project made my fingers hurt. The vendors, much like skilled hunters, would offer up a free item of worth, perhaps a T-shirt or tote bag, and then, once their prey was distracted, would pounce. Asking for tweets, Facebook follows, or new customers of any kind, these vendors overwhelmed my shoulders with the weight of their pamphlets and contact cards.
Were most of them valid and original business ideas? Absolutely. The problem was the sheer volume of them. It was like walking into the best restaurant in the world and told to eat; even if you could sample every dish, there’s no way you could remember how each one tasted. It’s times like this I wish I had an eidetic memory; photographic hearing (or rather photographic taste buds in the case of the restaurant scenario) would have been quite handy.
But through all the booths and sales pitches, I noticed a trend: the most memorable booths incorporated technology with a touch of old school. The women who attempted to show me a beauty skin camera, although I was very intrigued with your product, the Internet just couldn’t keep up; I never saw it work. But what I do remember is watching others trust their phones, snuggled safely in an Otter case, to fall down a Plinko board. I remember attempting to catch beer cans with a robotic claw. And, what wins most outstanding marketing plan, Skype’s town crier, who stood on a soapbox, in 1800s dress, and announced tweets, British accent and all.
Most of all, what I learned from my techo-whelming experience is the need to unplug. That the computer is a wonderful invention, but looking at it for too many hours will only cause me to hate it. That technology, just like everything else, can come in too large a dose.
*For any The Walking Dead fans, I do not mean zombies.