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Hippies, Idealists and Do-Gooders: SXSW Interactive Wants to Save the World

At the 2009 SXSW Interactive conference, I think I heard the word “monetize” roughly 17 times a day. As in “That kitten is cute, but how can we monetize it? What’s the ROI on scratching its tummy?”

Good grief.

But in 2010, I didn’t hear the word even once. [And the people rejoiced.]

No, this year was all about helping the planet, deepening relationships, telling stories, finding your passion, solving problems and understanding each other. Your basic save-the-world stuff.

Just look at some of these panel titles:

  • How to Spark a Movement in the 21st Century
  • Games for Good
  • Haiti Crisis Camp: Techies Unite for Earthquake Relief
  • Don’t Stop Believin’: Singing our Way to Changing the World
  • RT: I’m Going to Kill Myself. Preventing Suicide Online
  • What Guys are Doing to Get More Girls in Tech!
  • How Nerds Can Foster Democracy in Local Government
  • Kicking Recession Ass With A Killer Company Culture
  • It’s Time to Save the World with Design Thinking

 Even the business sessions seemed to have a heart:

  • Millionaire or Artist? How About Both?
  • Unsexy and Profitable: Making $$ Without Hype
  • The Socially Conscious Geek: Makin’ Money While Doing Good
  • Shameless Self Promotion Without Looking Like an @#$%^&!

 I’m not sure what brought on this shift, but I love it.

There were less self-promotional pitches in the Q&A times, less shoving business cards in your face, less bickering between panelists. Even the corporate lounges had a feel-good vibe: AOL’s Seed Lounge asked people to share SXSW stories and photos online, and the Pepsi Refresh project offered up $50,000 for the best digital social change idea.

I’m sure some of my impressions are simply a result of the panels I self-selected. And I don’t want to sound as if I’m opposed to all talk of making money—I think it’s a valid and necessary pursuit.

But I certainly haven’t built my own career around the biggest paycheck possible. And I don’t go to SXSW to make money. I go to learn, get inspired and connect. Judging from this year’s conference, the world is with me.

Bonus: Books to Change Your World

A list of titles suggested by SXSW presenters and attendees:

  • And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey, by Studs Terkel
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
  • Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World, by Ed Emberley
  • Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, by Nancy Duarte

Stay tuned this week, as I’ll be posting recaps, insights and resources from panels, including fabulous visual thinking stuff from the Visual Note-Taking 101 panel and Dan Roam’s Blah Blah Blah: Why Words Won’t Work; thoughts on better storytelling from The Future of Context; How to Make a Viral Video and more.

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.