Will technology conferences ever be about technology anymore?
Or will everyone just want to talk about throwing our devices into the Atlantic or Pacific so we can discuss how to better relate to each other as fellow human beings?
Those are the thoughts I had after Techonomy’s NYC edition this month. The event itself is more focused on big ideas in tech and business rather than tactical tech applications, but it seemed like anyone too focused on technology seemed out of place, while the bigger conversation starters wanted to talk about issues like equality and justice… and the nature of humanity.
Attendees heard these themes repeatedly. Mark Brand, once homeless, discussed how we can better treat those lacking permanent housing as members of our community. Douglas Rushkoff, one of my favorite authors and cultural analysts, named his latest book “Team Human” and believes humanity is worth fighting for — rather than succumbing to some algorithm-led future. Aetna’s former CEO Mark Bertolini discussed the importance of paying fair wages – even if he did make nearly $60 million in 2017. Sara DeWitt at PBS Kids Digital discussed her organization’s apps in the context of bringing parents and children closer together. Jasmine Crowe of Goodr was there to talk about blockchain, but rather than a crypto pitch, it was about reducing food waste.
The tech industry seems tired. As current and former tech execs advocate some version of minimalism, reduction, or abstention from products they helped create, there’s a search to fill the void. With religious beliefs marginalized by many in the tech world (customs that tend to surface are usually in the context of preserving cultural and familial bonds rather than as expressions of faith), there’s still some itch for that higher calling. Maybe, just maybe, that void can be lessened by us supporting each other. Tech conferences are the new self-help groups. While Jeremiah Owyang discussed the importance of community in his talk about wellness tech, these tech events can reorganize around attendees’ wellness. For those sick of discussing stickiness and engagement and cost-per-installs and impressions, we now preach something that feels healthier — albeit to the same choir.
Are these all signs of change? Are these signs of real transformation, as opposed to the digital transformation that so many consultancies focus on? Can we actually pause and reflect on anything when we’re still trying so desperately hard to sell something — our new product, our new book, our candidacy for a job or consulting gig, our side project that will let us quit our job, our campaign for the presidency?
I’m skeptical. But there are people making a difference. Goodr is a better use of the blockchain than some token sale. Mark Brand is changing people’s lives in Vancouver and beyond. Ideas like these are contagious. Humans may or may not be on Earth and in this universe for a reason. Tech may or may not be a vehicle furnished by a higher power to allow us to better heed Her or His calling. But we can all have the presence of mind to use whatever tools we have — technological, emotional, intellectual, biological, and others — to lift up others, or at least do no harm.
That’s it from me this week. Now it’s your turn. What are you making of yourself?
PS: After the previous issue’s exploration of deleting social apps, my friend Caitlin wrote, “David, I remember having a conversation with you over lunch about 10 years ago when I said I quit using Facebook. I will never forget you asked me, ‘So what are you doing with all your time?'”
It took me ten years, but now I know. And to think, back then, I thought I was the early adopter when it came to tech trends. She was so far ahead! Maybe she can tell me if Bitcoin’s a buy or a sell.
PS2: I really wanted to call this week’s newsletter “2.0: The Humanity,” but it didn’t make any sense.
LEARN. TRY. SHARE.
IT’S NOT MY TEA PARTY, AND I’LL CRY ANYWAY
Here’s your weekly reminder that influencers are the worst. “Tea” accounts (which have nothing to do with the Tea Party; “tea” is apparently slang for juicy gossip) chronicle what every noteworthy influencer is up to on a minute-by-minute basis, and it all seems so miserable. Let’s commiserate at the Serial Speakers event 6/6. I have even more to ask the panelists now.
IF IT QUACKS LIKE A BOT…
Ben Young of Nudge wrote about how they spotted some shady traffic that they thought came from bots. The source said it couldn’t be from a bot since it wasn’t flagged as such. Nudge dug deeper. It was so clearly bots. No one else cared. The ad industry is lacking in integrity and critical thinking. When are we going to see those traits required on job descriptions?
UBER VS ALLES
Not that many analysts covering Uber’s underwhelming stock performance deserve five-star ratings. And it seems like barely anyone knows what’s going on. I was chatting with someone who seemed to be pretty smart while at Techonomy, but he said how Lyft is doing so much better at $55 a share versus Uber at around $40 a share, and he didn’t get that Uber’s market cap is north of four times higher than Lyft’s. These comparisons from Crunchbase comparing Uber’s stock performance and finances to Amazon, Facebook, and Google add some helpful context.
-Uber vs Amazon
-Uber vs Facebook and Google
Kitchn is one of my guilty pleasures. This interview with Diaspora Co founder Sana Javeri Kadri describes how a spice, turmeric, was commoditzed and marketed, and then diluted to the point of losing the main benefits that were marketed. Also, calling the competition “yellow dirt” is brilliant. I like this founder.
STRANGEST BRAND THING
So, let’s get this straight. Netflix sets the stage for decimating the TV ad buying market. In the process, it launches a show set in the 80s when TV was a lot simpler. Back then, Coke suffered one of the most spectacular failed product launches of all time. But now this Netflix show helped convince Coke to bring back a product no one seemed to like, and this will maybe help people like the show more or the beverage company more? I have no idea. This seems like a brand doing something because it can, not because it should. But hey, press coverage.
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SERIAL SPEAKERS: INFLUENCER MARKETING
It’s the first Serial Marketer event, and we’re tackling a very hot topic: influencer marketing. While we have a terrific panel, they might not last for long, as at various points, anyone could wind up being on stage if you have something to say. The experts include FIT professor Dalia Strum, MuseFind CEO Jennifer Chiang, Mainframe Interactive MD Jordan Hirsch, and Social Studies founder Brandon Perlman. Use code 40off for 40% off, exclusively for subscribers to this newsletter (and sure, share this with your friends).
July 31-August 1
CommerceNext, the summit for next level customer acquisition (and one of the best events I’ve ever sponsored), is coming back to NYC. The 700+ person conference will have 80+ speakers from leading retailers, DTC brands and innovative tech companies. Speakers include Purple, TechStyle, Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Warehouse, Bonobos, Casper and more! Learn more:
ANA DIGITAL & SOCIAL MEDIA
The 2019 ANA Digital & Social Media Conference is July 24-26th at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Check out this agenda including top marketers from Target, Domino’s, American Express, Sephora, Bayer, Organic Valley, MGM Resorts and more.