COVID19 will ebb away, but your values will go viral

What is civilization? The poet Robert Frost once eloquently described civilization as “a clearing in a dense dark forest”.  As we collectively hacked our way to establish a clearing, to industrialize, to modernize, we began to think that this vista of our action was the defining world view. This is an idea that we continuously strengthen through the everyday.

It looks like that clearing in the forest might be very temporary after all. The meadow of civilization seems to be extremely vulnerable. As soon as something rattles the very fragile fabric of civilization, the dark reptilian ancestor in our brain seems to take over, and human values are banned and contained.

Fighting for toilet paper

People bash each other’s heads in for 12 rolls of toilet paper, and a flacon of hand sanitizer. Here in Austin, stores opened at 8am and had sold out of their full stock of milk and bottled water five minutes later, some gas station pumps are running dry. Finding masks, hand sanitizer or bleach is next to impossible. “Some people bought in bulk and are not hesitating to resell at a premium” said Tevin Hunter, a sales representative at Target in an interview with the Straits.

Shopping mall parking lots are empty. Some non-essential stores are open, but with a staff that longs for one thing: going home. Pasta, rice, virgin olive oil, meat and toilet paper are sold out at most places. Bizarrely, some other things are getting short in supply. Headphones and webcams are sought after items, tech stores run out of external monitors. Homeworking takes its physical toll on the supply chain.

Bikes and tents and moonshine

People bought more bikes, apparently to avoid public transportation, or to self-exercise now that gyms are closed. As a high number of these bikes are off roaders, it seems people are preparing for the apocalypse. Tents, flashlights, camping gear. You never know. Most Texans keep their impressive V8 vehicles topped up to the brim.

An Austinite was filling the flatbed of his truck with cases of beer, wine and Bourbon. “I need enough to kill the time before my moonshine is ready”, he laughed: “Smokes and booze, I can as well be honest about it.

Guns and ammunition

More worrying are the long queues at some gun shops.  Some of these shops sold more than a month worth of inventory over the last few days. Pistols, guns, rifles, and ludicrous amounts of ammunition were sold.  While we experience some fights on the parking lots of supermarkets in Europe, I do not dare to imagine what this would look like in a US State that allows for open carry. Gun ownership in Texas is at an estimated 35,7 percent, nor are Texans required by law to register their firearms.

Mind you, people do not buy guns and rifles to go hunting or fishing in this time of (perceived!) short supply.  Ken Booth, a gun owner, told the Buffalo News that he was stocking up on ammunition for his rifle and his girlfriend’s new handgun because he fears if there are widespread closings of stores selling essentials such as food, it could create social and economic turmoil and result in lawlessness.

People haven’t stood in soup lines in this country since the Great Depression,” said Booth: “What happens in a month from now when people start coming for what I have?” Booth said.”

Racism and extremists

The Chinaman disease” or “stay away from the yellow fever”, I heard somebody call it, a bit in line with Trump’s consequent usage of “Chinese virus”.  Some extreme right wingers finger point immigrants, hope COVID19 erases the homeless, or see a solution for the “pension problem” as COVID19’s primary mortality victims are the elderly.

Battling disinformation

Some of the biggest technology companies banded together in a commitment to fight coronavirus-related fraud and misinformation, as the internet was flooded with conspiracy theories, disinformation and hoaxes. The group includes Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube.

Amongst others, Twitter and Facebook are committed to providing non-governmental organizations vast advertising credits to boost public health campaigns and spread targeted and correct information.

Tech companies stepping in

Cisco announced free access to its video conferencing tool Webex for all countries where it is available, on top of the recent free availability of the platform that was limited to the countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google would roll out free access to the Hangouts Meet video conferencing capabilities to all G Suite customers globally. The rollout will begin starting this week, and free access will be available until July 1.

Microsoft offers a free six-month trial of its Teams product, which facilitates remote work through video and text chat.

Telecom operators worldwide offer higher bandwidth, and/or free access to on demand content. Some newscasters take down (albeit partly) their paywalls.

Onlineschools.be offers a comprehensive suite of (free) tools for schools and educational services.

Doing good

All in all, companies scramble to maintain business continuity, while at the same time ensuring flexibility and safety for their employees. Ranging from home-working where possible, over flexibility on sick-day-credits, to help with medical bills or day care.

The hotel (Lakeway Resort and Spa) in Texas where I am typing this, is providing staff AND visitors alike with gels, latex gloves and pro-grade masks for those that need to go through an airport.

Countless entrepreneurs and consultants offer services and advice for free, and set up platforms, websites and ways to help. Local volunteers take care of babies, childcare, and help the elderly with their shopping needs.

As often, a crisis brings out the best in people. The herd protection reflex at its fullest: the knowledge that together, we are stronger. That as a species, to prosper or to survive, we need each other. That, to maintain our clearing in the forest, we need to co-operate.

The dark side

Sadly, the same crisis also makes masks drop. Some people and corporations show their darkest side in full survival mode. They will rather throw the others under a bus, if they think it will give them the tiniest advantage.

A time of reckoning

We will learn a lot from this crisis. From each other. From our colleagues. From our bosses. From our friends. From our partners. From our neighbors. From our suppliers. From the old man in the shop.

In three weeks, we will know each other’s true hair color, and we will know each other’s true colors. No more hiding. No more pretending. Values are what you display when you are at your best, or at your worst. As an individual, as an employer, as a friend, a spouse, a parent, a brand.

May history be kind on your words, your actions and your mails. As this COVID19 crisis will pass, your empathy and your actions will go viral and will not be forgotten.

Take care.

#SXSWcorona: Living and working through your keyboard

All the sudden, millennia of civilization grind to a screaming halt. Streets are empty. Flights are cancelled, hotels go to minimal service, or close. Lockdown and curfew are used in our daily vocabulary for the first time since WWII.   A small sneeze or cough generates (understandably) immediate concern and panic. People are willing to maim each other over some rolls of pink slightly perfumed toilet paper.

Offices, restaurants and shops are moving their business out of the open. Work from home, stay in, don’t go out. Meetings that mandatory required everybody’s presence, are all the sudden morphed into videoconferences and conference calls. The laptop is the window to the world, the smartphone the only weapon against isolation.   

While most people have had multiple ways of digital contacting at their fingertips (ranging from messenger and WhatsApp, to Skype (for business) , WebEx, Hangouts, Teams…) it is shocking to see that a lot of them have never used it to the fullest in their personal or private environment.  For some employees, these platforms are just an icon on their desktop, that was never used until now. Too bad businesses did not invest in training programs and tutorials before the shit hit the fan.

Shift your thinking

Working and communicating remotely is quite a shift from being in the (open spaced) office. It is work, hard work, but not as you are used to know it. While the same business imperatives apply (delivery on time, on spec, and on budget), the rules of engagement and practicalities shift. Things taken for granted and years of habit go down the drain. You’ll have to shift your thinking, the virtual communication world is complex, powerful, and has lots of possibilities. You will just have to think outside of the non-virtual office box. Here are the tips I gathered from three decades of being a mobile warrior, enhanced with devilish wisdom from some of my fellow keyboard knights and SXSW veterans. They are brought to you from a mobile device, on the edge of the Texan desert.

The Goodies: hard- and software

  1. You need a computer (preferably a laptop), a (smart)phone and a (fast) (unlimited) internet connection. Without this, things are a tad difficult.
  2. Invest in a good headset for calls and reaching out. You might consider investing a bit more in noise cancelling varieties, with an easy mute button. A soundproof bubble with crystal clear sound is totally worth the surplus cost. (all online shops ship them overnight. Don’t rush to the store buying one). A good webcam helps obviously for the video-calls.  Most laptops and phones have them build-in. While the webcam focuses mostly on your face and nostrils, I invite you to avoid taking calls in pajamas, and -please- wear pants. I’m unable to forget the sight of one of my clients casually getting up in the middle of a video-call to grab coffee. He had totally forgotten he was only dressed up from the waist up: most disturbing Mickey Mouse sighting ever (on his boxers).   
  3. If you do video, make sure you have correct lighting. Turn your face TOWARDS the window or install a little LED that illuminates your face. Little cameras suck in low lighting.
  4. Install the right software, and check if it’s working before hopping on client calls. If necessary, contact your IT department. I am sure your email is set-up right, but ensure you have the rights to install/operate specialized tools like Slack, Skype for business, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, etc…
  5. Get a mobile subscription with unlimited data if possible.  That makes you truly mobile and offers a good “B” plan on those moments that Wi-Fi falters.

Your workplace

  1. Urm: it’s work. Ok, at home, but still: work. Taking that video-call in your onesie sitting on your bed chewing chips and downing a liter of Chardonnay might give the wrong impression. That basket of dirty laundry behind your shoulder, or youporn.com playing on that screen in the background are also things to avoid.
  2. Your kitchen table, dining table, or coffee table are totally acceptable. Just make sure the background is tidy, and as professional as possible. Too bad for the cat. It will have to move.
  3. Do make your home/work environment efficient and pleasant. You need outside light, a view, and some space to be creative, efficient and productive. Some soft music, cold water, and a green plant or two do wonders. Cacti might make you depressed 😊.
  4. Set a schedule. Divide your time in “work”, and “off”. Get up in the morning. Shower. Dress. Eat at noon. Turn off around end of business. This schedule is of the uttermost importance to get your spirit up, and your energy flowing. Follow the cycle of natural light as good as you can.
  5. Make your house members aware of your schedule. Show them the worktimes that you need to use to concentrate, and the video call moments where you’re going to be off-limits.  Toddlers and babies are forgiven everything, as it should be.
  6. Might seem obvious, but eat, drink (water), sleep, repeat. Being in your own bubble might make you forget that your body needs to continue to function. For that, it needs exercise, food, fluids and rest.
  7. Set a schedule with your co-workers, clients, managers. Keep taps on people, keep feeling the pulse of what’s happening. Keep connected, keep connecting. Even in lock-down: it’s not the end of the world. Yet.
  8. You need a fresh nose and some fresh air from time to time. A balcony, a garden, a terrace. If allowed, go for a walk. Even if allowed, steer and stay away from other humans. Worst case scenario: open a window. It helps clearing the lungs and the head.
  9. Code-word: healthy snacks. You WILL go for snacks and comfort food. For the sake of your wardrobe, let it be carrots, celery sticks, mini tomatoes and cauliflower.

Do’s

  1. If you can, go for video meetings. Just audio will make you lose a lot of the non-verbal communication that is essential for good interpretation and understanding. It also helps “humanizing” the whole situation. The other party is probably at work from home too: you give each other a glimpse of your private space, which is important for bonding and client intimacy.
  2. Stay close to your camera and your microphone (when not using a headset), the microphones on smartphones and laptops are excellent, but are calibrated only for short range.
  3. Please, mute if you are on a multiple person call. If you are the organizer, ask everyone except the presenter to mute. Cappuccino machines, screaming babies and an ear shattering feedback beep are very disturbing.  Mind that they are on mute, so, if you ask a question: allow them a second to unmute, or… tell them to unmute if they want to talk. It would not be the first time that somebody talks for a couple of minutes into a muted microphone.
  4. Do send presentations and documents before the call. Yes, you can share your screen, but some people on slower connections might have difficulties if there refresh rate goes down. They can still follow your talk, when they have your slides local.
  5. Send a clear agenda upfront, follow it rigorously, summarize highlights and certainly action points (and action owners) during the call, and repeat conclusions and decisions. This allows everybody to be on the same page., and gives everybody time and occasion to react, or assert that the information/summary is correct.  Send a summary of the call, with clear action points, action owners, and due dates within 12 hours after the call. Invite all to accept/amend before calling the minutes “final”.  If you plan to record the meeting: ask permission upfront and make the recording available for all.
  6. While not in the office, mail, chat, and connection tools are all you have: so, keep an eye on them during office time and (re)act timely. A nudge on WhatsApp is the digital equivalent of a little tap on the shoulder. It’s comforting for co-workers, clients and management that you are -indeed- available and connected. On the other hand, respect that it might take a bit longer for people to respond to you. There is a small natural lag in digital conversations.
  7. Do point out “better” hours for connecting via video/sound (I’ll be without kids in half an hour is a great argument!)
  8. Respect your natural working time. Working remotely does not mean “always working”. When you’re off, you’re off: except in emergencies you should not work.  

Don’ts

  1. Eat while conference calling. Food crunching during a call is gross and extremely disturbing. So is drinking. And farting.
  2. Do not take calls, even audio, from the comfortable porcelain seat in your bathroom. Just… don’t.
  3. Don’t take long calls from the warm intimacy of your bed: you WILL fall asleep, and nothing more embarrassing that snoring during your board call…
  4. Disclose if there are other people with you (kids, spouse…) so people can judge what level of confidential information they want to share. Don’t forget: NDA is NDA, at home, or not. Don’t let sensitive information spread.
  5. Make sure your mute is a real mute before cursing, ranting, or making out with your loved one.

If you have other tips, please let me know: I’ll gladly add.

#SXSWCorona: Your opinion does not matter. Science, and facts do.

It’s been on my agenda for three years now: the battle against fake news. The level of dumbfuckery that is served daily on my personal interwebs channels gives me the flying scoobidoobidoo. It wants me to scream, yell, shake, and slap a good number of internauts into sense. Luckily for them that seems illegal in most countries, and still a bit difficult to do “the cyber way”.

Hanging out -safely social distanced, no worries- with some more social media aficionados and marketing and communication professionalsin a hot outskirt of the USA, one conversation point pops up immediately: the tsunami of fake, troubling, distorting and flat-out dangerous posts on the global pandemic, also known as COVID19, or -if you prefer- the Coronavirus.  Consensus is: something needs to be done about this. Question is: how?

Social vigilance

The fist step is not that difficult. Social vigilance. Don’t believe everything you read: analyse, think, verify. Is there a credited source? Multiple ones? Is it verifiable? Is it not already on one of the multiple good “factcheck sites”?  I copy a suggestion of good factcheckers below this post, verified by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). There are other good ones, send and I’ll add 😊. 

Seriously, don’t spread fake news. The truth is often complicated and hard enough.  Stuff that starts with “A good friend of mine, who is in the medical industry….” = nope, njet!  If you believe -without verifying- what uncharted friends of friends believe, I have a couple of nice bridges to sell you. 

Look for reliable sources and cross-examine them. That lowers the chances of spreading garbage.  Here are a couple of good sources on health and COVID19, as collected by the Harvard Medical School:

  • rely on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals
  • have a mission to inform and protect the public, such as the CDC and the WHO, which recently added a myth busters page to its information on 2019-nCoV
  • are not promoting or selling a product related to the information provided.
  • MedlinePlus, from the US National Library of Medicine
  • the UK’s National Health Service (and other national health services)
  • the US Food and Drug Administration
  • major news outlets with deep expertise in health reporting, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe’s STAT News.

Your opinion does NOT matter

Confucius, the famous French medieval enlightened philosopher (you might want to verify that one before spreading) notoriously said that “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one”. While that is absolutely and verifiably true (wait, it is not: one out of five thousand people is born without one! http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/medical_services/surgical/minimal/conditions/ianus/signs.html ), that does not mean I want to listen to every single one…

Way too often attempts at adult conversations on the internet are slapped with references to “I’m intitled to my opinion” and “freedom of speech”. Let me spill this out for you: your opinion does not really matter. You have the absolute right to say that -in your opinion- the earth is flat, the moon landing was a hoax, God created the world in seven days, there is no climate change urgency, and Corona was invented by a political party to dethrone Trump. You have the right to that opinion (in which case I evoke my constitutional right to think you are an utter and hopeless moron), but that does not really MATTER in an adult conversation. It’s just verifiable WRONG.

Your right to think that 2+2=5 is just that, it stops there. You’re allowed to think whatever you want. That does not mean that your thinking is not WRONG. Your thinking that you have the right to drive 250 on the highway will end you up in jail, your 2+2=5 claim will make you -rightly so- the laughingstock of every fundamental school class.

Moral duty: debunk

It’s our duty, especially in these shaky times, to debunk. Point out facts. Point out idiocies and fake beliefs. It’s like AIDS, you are the last line of defence. Whether it is aliens, creationism, populism, flat earth, anti-vaxxers, reptile people, illuminati, refugees wanting to take over your world: it can and should stop with you. NO excuses. Debunk. Point out the flaws. Don’t take opinions for an answer. Your and my timeline will look so much better!

We might all put pressure on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and tuti quanti and nudge them into helping us to separate the wheat from the chaff. They have been running from that responsibility for too long. Yes, people can and should express opinions. Our social platforms -and news platforms- should put warnings on those opinions that are wrong, manipulative or misleading. That is not censorship, it’s common sense. Nothing debunks fake news harder and faster than facts, figures, and science.

COVID 19 debunked

No, it was not engineered in a Chinese lab; you cannot get rid of it by gurgling hot salty water; sniffing Cocaine will get you high, not cured; praying does not help; neither do tele-evangelists and preachers; it’s not “like the flu”; it does not stop at the border; you will not get it from your Alibaba Chinese package; being young will not save you from harm; you cannot vitamin C your way out of this; vegans have no lesser chance of contamination than the others; being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing is not a Corona-free indication; yes you should get the flu-vaccine but no, it will not help you against COVID19; you can get it in countries with temperatures above 27 degrees; and if you hope that spring will cure humanity forever you’re a mild form of an optimistic idiot.

You’re welcome.

Fact check sites

AllSides. While not a fact-checking site, AllSides curates stories from right, center and left-leaning media so that readers can easily compare how bias influences reporting on each topic. 

Fact Check. This nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by U.S. political players, including politicians, TV ads, debates, interviews and news releases.

Media Matters. This nonprofit and self-described liberal-leaning research center monitors and corrects conservative misinformation in the media.

NewsBusters. A project of the conservative Media Research Center, NewsBusters is focused on “documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.”

Open Secrets. This nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit website run by the Center for Responsive Politics tracks how much and where candidates get their money.

Politifact. This Pulitzer Prize winning website rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials. Run by editors and reporters from the independent newspaper Tampa Bay Times, Politicfact features the Truth-O-Meter that rates statements as “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.”

ProPublica. This independent, nonprofit newsroom has won several Pulitzer Prizes, including the 2016 Prize for Explanatory Reporting. ProPublica produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Snopes. This independent, nonpartisan website run by professional researcher and writer David Mikkelson researches urban legends and other rumors. It is often the first to set the facts straight on wild fake news claims.

The Sunlight Foundation. This nonpartisan, nonprofit organization uses public policy data-based journalism to make politics more transparent and accountable.

Washington Post Fact Checker. Although the Washington Post has a left-center bias, its checks are excellent and sourced. The bias shows up because they fact check conservative claims more than liberal ones.

(with thanks to Wim Labie!)

“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

There you have it.  Call me crazy, but my bags are packed. I’m in the Big Apple, and tomorrow I’ll ride at dawn, propelled by the 16.000 horses of an Airbus 320, towards Austin, Texas.  The weirdest city in the Lone Star State.

Yes, I know, officially SXSW 2020 is cancelled. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin declared the state of emergency, and called off the biggest event of Austin. Health officials maintained until the last moment that there was no scientific reason to do so.  Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority in Austin County said on Wednesday that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW, or any other gatherings, will make the community any safer”. He repeated that statement on Friday, after the state of emergency was declared.

There’s a lack of conclusive scientific evidence that cancelling mass gatherings will change the overall impact in spread of disease over time” Escott said.

Excuse me?

Steve Adler adds further to the confusion, by urging people in Austin to go out, eat out, spend money at local entrepreneurs, and enjoy the live music at the unofficial events. Seriously, he did: on his twitter channel.

Hundreds of booked bands have no intention of backing off, and are still aiming to perform at the places that booked them, and that were not part of the official SXSW circuit.  5th street and 6th street are rocking the boat.

Venues switched from international stars to local talent, and are determined that the show will go on. “Keep Austin weird”, the famous city adagio at its wildest and at its best.

Alternative SXSW

Thousands of SXSW Interactive attendees woke up with no SXSW to go to, but with a couple of thousands of euro in nonrefundable expenses: planes, catering, transport, hotels…  Part of that tech crowd decided to go to Austin anyway, hoping for a kind of alternate festival in the best case or some days off in the worst case.

Turns out that there is plenty of activity in the weirdest city of the west: Plenty of people are organizing events in Austin just for the tech crowd that has every intention of attending SXSW. Some local tech entrepreneurs  are working at holding on-invitation only events, grey events, or are turning their planned keynotes and panel discussions into podcast episodes. It looks like you might be able to attend the recording sessions if you know how to get you on the list.

Online and social media channels on  “Alt SXSW 2020” are popping up by the dozens. Even good old Unofficial SXSW Guide started broadcasting again.

I’m homing in on the #AltSXSW and #AltSXSWEDU hashtags that are rounding up registrants and speakers alike to meet up and share ideas.

Washing hands

I promise to be careful; I’ll wash and disinfect a-gogo. I won’t hug, I won’t kiss. I’ll smoke the heck out of the ill making little buggers in The County Line.

But nothing will keep me away from Austin in the week to come. Davy Crockett said it so well: “You may all go to hell,  but I will go to Texas….

And, as every year: I’ll keep you posted.

100.000 miles

It probably is a clear manifestation of midlife crisis. Or the desperate cry of an ego trying to break out. Or an honest try to order a gazillion of my thoughts in a mostly structured way. It’s certain that I miss playing with words, sentences and magic dust.

So, I’m writing a book. A collection of words and thoughts that will see the light just in time for my beloved SxSW 2019. There, the deadline is set. A book that expresses my thoughts and vision on societal trends, technology and the old ancient art of communication and influencing.

A year to collect, assess, question, write, kill, rewrite and build.

That leaves me exactly 100.000 miles to meet people, interview friends I admire, authors I like, business people walking the talk daily. A gargantuan journey to wisdom. A treasure of views, experiences, debates, talks, interviews and musings.

I will share every single mile of this journey. Every encounter. Every thought.

Romesh Gunesekera  said: “A passenger on a road journey is in the hands of a driver; a reader embarking on a book is in the hands of a narrator.”

Let me be both…

Bruce Sterling: Brands are in an earthquake

I’m a voracuious reader, and for ages I’ve been consuming the books of Bruce Sterling with red glowing ears.  Sterling, along with William Gibson,  and Rudy Rucker is one of protagonists of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. Chairman Bruce was not only intellectually leading cyberpunk movement, he proved to be an amazing visionary as well, predicting the impact of internet, connected things and augmented reality way before the average people had computers in their homes. Visionary in residence at numerous universities, Bruce Sterling  is one of the most erudite futurologists on the planet.

And… I met him at breakfast. Meeting Chairman Bruce is like getting your brain upgraded with bubbly things.  “I’m glad I do not have to consult brands these days on how to deal with the fast changing concepts of today. I could have consulted Nokia. It would not have done them any good’.

Sterling sees only one option for brands to stay afoot in the game: agility and flexibility. Social media and the steampunk  metaverse are becoming more and more prominent in today’s society, and sterling thinks that assuming it will ease down, or go away is foolish: ‘It’s only the beginning. Social media is as big a thing as the internet ever was. It’s changing everything it touches.’  He sees a clear connecting in fast moving hardware, changing habits, and endless software possibilities “Soon, the furniture, the house, will be your computer. People will not have interfaces, people will ask to have things, and their environment will react.”’

Only when brands are prepared to stop thinking static, and only when they are prepared to re-invent themselves every morning, will they survive. ‘It’s like living in a cataclysm zone. What you build today can be gone with the flood tomorrow. Rebuild, or vanish’.  Brands that are willing to continuously rethink their ways in connecting to their markets will stand a chance: ‘we’re talking massive changes. Gadgets like telephones will cease to exist. We will be connected to our environment; we will be part of this metaverse. Find out as as brand how to deal with that.

Knowing that Bruce Sterling always is a decade or two ahead, there still might be time….

No One Can Beat an Astronaut!

They are all here: Guy Kawasaki, the people from Glee, Bruce Sterling, presenters from National Geographic… at SxSWi, you cannot throw a hotdog in the air without making three dozen famous people profoundly unhappy. After hugging Randi Zuckerberg in the Samsung Blogger Lounge, I washed my hands in the lavatory with Baratunde Thurston, author of  How to Be Black.  I’m such a hipster.

And then, you need to see the crowd flocking around astronauts Ron Garan, Nicholas Skytland and John Yembrick . Nothing beats an astronaut. You could see the eyes of all men glow with excitement, the eyes of the kids with wonder and awe, the short skirted SxSW girls with desire… astronauts. The last super heroes have come down from their daily space explorations at NASA, to mingle with us common mortals.

NASA is prominently present at SxSWi. After star-space, the social space seems to be the universe that fits the Space Agency like a glove. While most brands still are struggling with the idea of getting away from their corporate logos online, and take on a more human identity online, NASA is way out there, miles ahead of the curve.

NASA is without a doubt one of the most advanced social media players. Every single mission gets its own social universe. The Curiosity robot jeep is happily tweeting from the red dust sandy heaven of Mars, you can interact with the Hubble telescope, tweet with astronauts in the Space Station and talk with mission control. William Shatner regularly talks with the new Captain Kirks circling around our little blue planet, giving them some wise Federation advice.

NASA’s social media efforts keep space exploration at the very heart of the population, and make the giant leap between humans and astronauts melt away like a Blue Cheese in a microwave.  It also proves that daring to make your social interactions more tongue-in-cheek, funny, human, honest and character-profiled pays off big time.

My guide was Alice, a 12 year old Space Camper. Her eyes were blazing with Space Holy Fire. She will be the captain of the ship that will save the population of Earth just before The Big One hits. I’m sure. Nothing beats an astronaut.

I’m not taking any chances, I’m securing my seat in Alice’s rocket. I’m following her on Twitter.

Jason Silva: brands and people have to think exponentially

Media artist documentary filmmaker and philosopher Jason Silva’s energy is contagious and relentless. Mind you, he is just in his early thirties, and already he is wow-ing everybody with his quick, recumbent eidetic mind.  He likes to call himself an idea-jockey. Hearing him talk is like listening to Wikipedia, in 3D, on steroids, in fast-forward.

Silva described in the fastest English this side of the asteroid belt that the world we live in today leaps through an exponential progression of technology. Tech is killing the perceived time lag between the imaginable (what we can imagine) and that what we are able to create:  ‘We are rapidly converging to become a civilization of networked minds that will transcend all previous limits. As Erik Davis wrote in Techgnosis, -When everything becomes linked with everything else, matter becomes mind- ‘

His ideas certainly match nicely with Kurzweil’s exponentiallity, and with the incredible 3D  printing rage that seems to have taken over Austin Texas by storm this year. When an idea can be printed, in 3D… the leap between mind and matter becomes very very small indeed, and one can see how this will dramatically change the world we live in.

‘With the coming overlapping revolutions in biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, the instruments to remake the world will be in everybody’s hands.’

Jason Silva believes the challenge for people and brands is to stop thinking linear, but to start thinking exponentially. Exponential thinking is parallel, and allows individuals and brands alike to recombine fast moving different ideas, coming from different disciplines. Embracing current and future possibilities across a plethora of different specialties and darker corners of science will allow surviving and excelling in a world where nothing can be taken for granted anymore.

On the marketing and media place, Silva notices in the video-interview I had with him that “attention” is becoming a currency, an endangered species, a new limited resource. The ability to capture and catch people’s interest in a brands conversation will depended on how exponential that brand is willing to think and act. Old school media, where we put everything in boxes and pre-chewed messages will definitely not get us in the charts anymore.

Print your life, your bodyparts, your food. In 3D.

Where is the time when we were building our little world as a kid: stone by stone, in colourful Lego blocks. If we can believe Bre Pettis, founder of Makerbot, those early days were only the beginning.

”With affordable 3D printers, young entrepreneurs from all over the world will be able to build the fruit of their imagination one prototype at a time, on a shoe-string budget’, stated Pettis at his #SxSW 2013 opening speech: ‘way too long imagination and progress were hold up by financial and structural difficulties. Today, some freeware and a 2200 dollar 3D printer can make all ideas come to live. At the click of the print button.’

Thinking that Pettis had too much Texan beer? Think again. Nasa is using these makerbot 3D printers to print essential parts of their martian rovers. If it is good enough for Nasa, it might just work for you.

‘Everyone is on social media now’, continues Pettis: ‘link that power of thought, wisdom, art and connections to hardware that concretizes ideas in tangible stuff. Take it, scan it, send it, print it, build it… move your world.’

The 3D printers enable scientists and mechanics to print artificial limbs for African children, tailor-made prosthetic body parts. It pushes the boundaries of the possible into realms that were only possible on the control deck of captain Kirk’s Enterprise spacecraft.

The days were 3D printers are capable of printing organic cells, food and replacement body parts are  closer by than most people dare to think.

In the meantime, Pettis revolutionized 3D printing by vulgarizing it, and bringing it to broader masses.

What the marketer in me wanted to know is how to think down such a complex machinery as a 3D printer into a concept that mortal people understand. Pettis answer made me smile: ‘it’s simple. Pack your 3D printer, set it up in the local pub and start printing shot glasses. You will attract a lot of attention.’

Pettis proved one thing for sure, as long as young people keep on dreaming, there will be progress.

The snobbism of not coming

It’s getting a bit hilarious. While #SxSW is growing year over year, a whole generation of digital and social media professionals have built their bread and butter around wisdom, information and contacts that blossomed in the sunny city of Austin, Texas.

However, judging from the steady stream of twitter messages, some of these people are creating a new trend. The trend of not showing up. While I do understand that it is not a must to come to SxSW, or that other, more pressing things pop up, I’m puzzled by the rational some of the not-comers are putting forward: they do not need to come. SxSW was better in the past, when they were here, sharing BBQ and Texan beer. Since they are not coming, SxSW is not important anymore. And, since they are not here, by default, it’s already written in the stars that the better days were in the past.

That reminds me of endless talks with my grandmother. Before, things were better. Before, summer was warmer and greener. It never rained. It snowed every Christmas. Every winter, it froze a meter in the ground. Every bride was a virgin.

Only a day here @SxSW, and I met amazing people, discovered new technologies, listed new trends to follow up and watch closely. SxSW is not dead. It’s vibrating with the steady drum of true entrepreneurship. It buzzing with people with fire in their eyes, and the tell-tale eyes of long sleepless working nights.

Too bad some of the people that built their reputation and fortune here, suddenly feel disconnected. It’s certainly more comfy on their golf courses or motor yachts, or maybe they prefer to admire their perfect corporate hair in the polished wood of their newly VC-ed executive board rooms.

The die-hards keep on coming, try to come, or follow it with a smile from a distance. There will be a sparkle of genius again this year. As long as Bruce Sterling keeps on coming, I will as well.

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