Warning: walking while reading one's smart phone can be hazardous to your health. Tuesday night on my way home from the SXSW Awards party on Austin's dark and crowded 6th Street, I tripped and split my lip on the sidewalk, gushing blood. My BlackBerry was unharmed. I hailed a pedicab to the local ER, where I needed no stitches, but looked like someone had punched me in the face.
Just the day before I had been furiously tweeting NYT media columnist David Carr's Interactive panel I'm So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done, for which he rounded up panelists Anthony De Rosa (product manager at Reuters, founder of SoupSoup and Neighborhoodr.com), L.A.'s Molly McAleer (memoir blog MollsSheWrote) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (senior editor/blogger at The Atlantic) to address multitasking and productivity, and talked to my flip cam about it afterwards, below. Here's Steve Myers' live blog of the panel.
In his intro before the packed room with people standing along the walls, Carr said:
"You answer email, check your RSS, update Twitter, and then when you're done you do it all over again. Then your boss and your wife ask, 'What about what you get paid for?' We're content makers. We make content and we promote it. Lately I've been so busy promoting what I do that I don't do what I do."
Part of the problem is that the Internet changes the brain, claims Carr: "It vaporizes it and turns it into red mist...The Web is both the most productive invention ever and the biggest time suck." At the same time Carr feels a healthy envy for freelance blogger-turned-NYT media reporter Brian Stelter's endless productivity: "He's a robot assembled in the New York Times building to come and kill me."
People who spend time on Twitter are often looking for themselves, observed Carr. He loathes the lack of respect shown when you look at your smart phone instead of attending to the one you're with. Even at SXSW, where folks have the opportunity to network, Carr sees them not communicating, typing next to each other. "There are a lot of people alone together at this conference."
One questioner suggested trying a media-free week once a month: it's time to put down our phones and be more present with each other. There was loud approval in the room for that sentiment.
McAleer finds it easy to do a personal memoir blog, but she's always on, 24/7. She's blogging her life, but worries about something happening to her dog when she's walking him and reading her phone at the same time. The Atlantic's Coates said that unplugging and building real relationships in person is key. He does focus on his 11-year-old son. He writes short three to five interesting posts a day, but hopes that he won't be blogging in six years. He used to write more longer more thoughtful pieces.
De Rosa curates and aggregates around topics, he said: "It's hard to unplug when there's always something to share." Original content is labor intensive, while programming is about finding things; that's easier to keep up. "We're more productive but we're paid less." Carr added that America is the only country in the world where when people get paid more they work harder.
There was a sense afterwards that this panel was less full of productivity tips than therapeutic; the room was soaking up what they needed to hear.
The same was true at the The Blogger Centipede: How Content is Eroding Credibility panel (podcast is here; also check Twitter hashtag #bloggercentipede), which drew a great cross-section of the online movie community, familiar from my Twitter feed. It seemed that many of these movie site runners and contributors needed to hear what their best practices should be. And many pledged to be more transparent, link and share more credit going forward.
Moderater Kate Erbland, managing editor at GordonAndTheWhale.com (@katerbland), moderated the panel (including me) on the state of online journalism, ethics, stealing, and curating. Kids on the net are lifting tweets and posting other peoples' reviews as their own, said Cinematical critic William Goss (@williambgoss): "How do we reinforce [the notion of plagiarism] with a generation who think that copy and paste is ok?"
"I don't know if it's inherent that people are stealing," said MTV NextMovie's Matthew Patches (@misterpatches), who sees entire pieces turning up on fan sites. "I don't know what that stems from." Pajiba publisher Dustin Rowles (@pajiba) was troubled by how many ideas spread through the web, with no one knowing where they originated.
The panel debated issues of how to pull readers to sites--with the same old trailer or rumors that everyone else has, or with original content, context and analysis? How to balance quantity and speed with quality? Do you drive people away by linking to other sites, or keep them by claiming that what you run is your own? What are best practices on the web? How do you weigh a casting short list, a screen test, or a rumor from a not credible source? Do you bait your readers with unconfirmed casting on a movie that hasn't been made yet? "Don't we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard, wait twelve hours and report something real?" asked questioner Dan Carlson from Pajiba. "Get them excited about the real thing for the right reasons?"
Patches asked everyone to slow down. "Isn't the answer to do things right at your site?" asked one questioner. "We just fixed the Internet, people," quipped Patches. One questioner said folks just need to be shown how to do it. "Who are they supposed to learn ethics from?" asked Patches. "We should write up a declaration of principles," suggested Goss.
"We have to help those guys," Patches agreed. "Who's helping them? We'll shame them when they do something wrong but we won't help them when they do something right."
A questioner also brought up the issue of attacking one another on Twitter. Let's respect, credit and share original content about the films we love, said Cinematical's Erik Davis. "Less of an echo chamber and more of a free love orgy," concluded Goss.
The Guardian attended the panel and put some ideas together about the rising power of tastemaker movie fan sites at festivals like SXSW. Indeed.
Jeff Wells posted a video clip from the panel:
[Photo: SXSW panel from left, Kate Erbland, William Goss, Dustin Rowland, Matthew Patches.]