SXSW: What hath tech wrought?

Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald

The once-secret surveillance programme of the US's National Security Agency (NSA) is casting a long shadow over this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference, a festival of technology and innovation that starts on Friday.

Amid the search for the Next Big Thing, the breathlessly detailed hopes and dreams of would-be Silicon Valley millionaires, the manic buzz of corporate public relations teams, and the alcohol-sodden parties, there's a darker edge.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will speak on Saturday. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, along with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist to whom he leaked his trove of classified government documents, are scheduled for Monday.

Of course, none of these men will actually be here in Austin, the booming state capital known for live music, good food and liberalism in a sea of Texas conservatism. Instead they are scattered around the globe, communicating via videoconference.

If Mr Assange and Mr Snowden were to set foot on US soil, they'd likely be arrested immediately for crimes against national security. Instead the former is hunkered down at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, fighting extradition to Sweden for a sexual assault investigation, while the latter lives in Moscow under Russian-granted asylum.

Greenwald says that he is concerned he might share a similar fate if he leaves his new home in Brazil - although he has hinted that he may return to the US at some point anyway.

Meanwhile, panel discussions and seminars on internet security, government surveillance, corporate data-mining and the challenges of social media dot the five-day conference line-up.

"As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem," writes SXSW Director Hugh Forrest in a press release.

Known as the launching pad of Twitter and Foursquare, SXSW is a place where a savvy businessperson can find the backing to make an idea into reality. But this year, talk also turns to the perils of the interconnected world that these ideas have created.

SXSW started as a music conference, and on Wednesday the recording industry will claim the stage. Austin will look more like Hollywood or Nashville, as the "geek" collection of tech entrepreneurs and journalists depart.

Until then, however, there's time to debate whether we should be proud of this brave new world we're building.

Is all this technology, the constant churn of newer and flashier things, making life better? Or are we sacrificing something essential in pursuit of digitally aided convenience?

I'll share my observations over the course of the conference.

Is technology worth the hype?



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  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    After one ´sign in´and contribution --the party is over.

    Playing ´cat and mouse´with unstable BBC cookies --it´s Russian Roulette on my Mac.

    "Until then, however, there's time to debate whether we should be proud of this brave new world we're building."

    --is there ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Bush Jr's moralistic (sic) crusade c/w the Patriot Act, that resulted in a de facto police state and NSA rampant, Second Amendment changes with 19 states open-carry, and the sub prime scam that brought world financial markets to their knees have resulted in America as untrustworthy and the world pariah: a place to be avoided. The US recent machinations to restrict the internet is the last straw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    There are 5 bullets in the Russian Roulette ´chamber´ instead of one.

    --and not even a ´echo´

    Who the heck is our enemy ?

    Them, us or both ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    4. The BBC blog issues, unresolved, are just part of the assault by factions to turn the net into the for-profit resource that it always should have been in their view - did you ever attempt web surfing from a hotel room in LA when AOL were Kings of the-feed? AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, et al, tried from day 1. to control-access when introducing net services - 'tragedy of the commons'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    #7 Chris A

    Other BBC blog contributors have shown little response (descriptions) to their problems (if any ?).

    No viruses (bitfender) -Firewall on and Mac up-to-date.

    BBC says " working on the problem" --but still not sure if I am a `target´.(Hubris ?)

    "Is technology worth the hype?"

    --One thing is sure, our ´enemies´ are no longer at the doorstep --but in our apartments.


Comments 5 of 39


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