My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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fuck the SXSW etiquette guide

Culturally enforced etiquette has never been my thing. Fuck Miss Manners. Fuck anyone who tells me how to be a good girl. Ah yes, resistant to a core – i’ve always been the punkass with a middle finger to the world, finding my identity in proving everyone wrong. And i’m in a contentious mood so it’s only a wee bit magnified right now.

Thus, i couldn’t help but want to spit at The unofficial geek guide to getting over yourself at SxSW Interactive 2005. I consider myself a pretty friendly, approachable person (although this definitely subsides when i’m a walking stressball and i admit a little bit of chaos right now). But i don’t want to be told that i’m not approachable because i’m attached to my laptop. I may not be doing heart surgery but i have a stack of students taking a midterm on Tuesday morning and i’ve chosen to come to SXSW anyhow. Why? Because i do believe in co-presence. But, that said, i can only do it because i will be constantly wired, because i will be sitting in the hallway keying IMs back in my reality between conversations. No, i’m not going to be 100% present at SXSW but if that’s what’s required to go, than i can’t go. I figure it’s better to be 60% there than not at all. I’ll still be goofing around in the hallways, meeting new people and rekindling relationships with old friends who i wouldn’t see otherwise. It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Or maybe i’m just the kind of bitch that’s undesirable at touchy feel-y events – too much New Yorker in me.

But seriously, i’m shelling out my own bucks and time to fly my arse to Austin – why should i accept someone else’s prescription about how to make the most of my experience there? I have a sneaking suspicion that i’ll get what i want out of the experience and hopefully help make others’ experiences a bit more fun. Why do i have to follow rules to be a contribution? Maybe that means i won’t get a little orange sticker or be the purrfect attendee but why do i have to be perfect?

i am not a pretty girl

that is not what i do

i ain’t no damsel in distress

and i don’t need to be rescued

so put me down punk

Ani Difranco

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26 comments to fuck the SXSW etiquette guide

  • The other argument that could be made is that someone’s making suggestions in order to foment community in an environment where some would be intimidated or confused. That increases inclusion, opens the doors up wider, and all it costs is having to take some of his points with a grain of salt. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, and I dunno if I’d necessarily think that it justifies raging against this particular machine. Especially since the machine seems like the kind of person who’s nice enough to anticipate concerns that might keep a new person from fully joining the community that forms at the conference.

  • Enjoy!

    (does this mean I don’t get a hug? damn. No stickers for you! …. Okay, maybe just one.)

    (and miss manners, aside: Spitting at other peoples’ ideas makes you unapproachable; it has nothing to do with the laptop.)

  • It’s called a Guide. Not a book of Commandments.

    And frankly, from a wider perspective, I’ll note (somewhat hypocritically, since I’m online right now), that his invitation to log off and actually talk to people is something that:
    – shows respect for speakers / panelists
    – possibly encourages shy people to take a chance and meet people in meatspace
    – makes sense

    Too many people at conferences like this (nay, in the world at large nowadays) stay in their little iPod coccoons and IM their friend in bora bora and don’t even bother to meet their nextdoor neighbor.

    But I digress.

  • spring

    You are quite right to not follow someone else’s prescription for how to attend a conference. I applaud your independence.

    “But i don’t want to be told that i’m not approachable because i’m attached to my laptop.”

    Sorry, but you’re not approachable when you’re attached to your laptop. To be approachable, you need to appear interested in the people and events around you. When you are IMing, you are obviously busy doing something else, so, quite rightly, people will be reticent to interrupt you.

    I realize that you’re not going to spend all your time hunched over your laptop, but do keep in mind that the time you do spend that way is time you can’t spend being engaged with the rest of the conference.

  • I had a great time at last year’s SXSW despite occasional use of my laptop, and I also met tons of new people. I met people in IRC, and I met people in the hallways, including those in the many seated arrays of laptop users. I met people at mealtimes and playing kickball. (No, I did not carry the laptop when playing kickball though I could arguably have played better if I did…)

    I admire the generosity and humor of David Nunez, who wrote the guide, but I too find jarring his judgmental hostility to laptop users, and his assumption that anyone seen using a laptop is tied to it, “very sad”, showing off, “about fashion”, etc. That kind of divisive rhetoric makes SXSW less congenial, not more so.

  • I think that one of the hard things to avoid is the perception of cliquishness. It’s like summer camp, people come from far away places, and are very happy to see the friends they made in previous years and friends they see rarely.

    One of the things I like best about SXSW is how my Austin friends get to meet friends from elsewhere.

    Another problem is dunbar number. I wonder whether web-enabled minicelebrity enables many net-folk to meet more people than they are able to relate to. It’s not that hard to rack up a level of fame that would lead one to want to triage and avoid new people.

    danah, I’m surprised to hear you respond negatively about the suggestion to look up from the laptop, rather than to respond positively with analysis and additional, different suggestions about the social environment at sxsw.

  • Betsy: Can I also say (as I wrote in the article) that this guide is for ME? I’M a geek. I’M a “sad” laptop user. I’M shy and need help approaching people.

    When I’m creating “judgmental hostility,” it’s towards MYSELF. (I freely admit that there have been times I pulled out my laptop AT SXSW for the sole purpose of showing off…)

    The guide was meant to be a kick in the ass for people who have had trouble trying to interact.

    It’s a kick to my own ass; and I’m leaving the laptop at home this year.

  • danah, at Warren Sack’s CNM faculty talk the clickety clackety of you and your damn sidekick was driving me (and the guy sitting in front of you) up the fucking wall. Pull your head out of your ass for a second and realize that being around your “co-presence” can be like sitting in front of a guy on an airplane who won’t stop kicking the seat.

  • If I were attending SXSW, I think I’d want a green frowny-face sticker for my badge. 😉

  • Eh, that guy is pretty much on. Like it or not, most aren’t going to interrupt someone working on a laptop. Most find it annoying trying to hold a panel/talk and look out into an audience to see half the faces buried in a laptop, sidekick, blackberry, whatever.

  • I think I’d prefer a maiden fair.

    But please, please, at least leave the iPod in the hotel room.

  • Mike

    “i’m shelling out my own bucks and time”

    I totally agree.

    this is how I feel about going to Burning Man. I’ll act exactly how I want to when I go, and fuck the accepted and insisted behaviour I’m supposed to follow.

  • Take a chill pill, please. There are enough borderline Aspergerians and autistics shuffling through the halls in Austin avoiding eye contact with other carbon-based lifeforms that whatever preference you have, whatever preference whatsoever, will be accepted by some people and ignored by nearly everybody else.

  • Adina – I guess that’s the thing… i don’t believe in prescribing social behaviors. It’s my belief that people enter into social spaces for different reasons and to get different things out of them. I get a lot out of IMing with someone in the same session. I find it offensive to be told that i’m showing off because i have my laptop out, even though i know in certain cultures this is true. Yet, i see SXSW not as a foreign culture, but one in which i’m a part and other laptop-connected folks are as well.

    I do love SXSW and i do love meeting people. But i also get oversaturated with people and do need to tune out. Same reason i can’t stay at a crowded party too long or deal with a protest. There are psychological and social differences to people – and thus what they need/want out of a situation differs tremendously.

    If i hadn’t been drunk and cranky when i wrote this, i probably would’ve drawn parallels between this kind of social prescription and the concept called “configuring the users” that i’m always railing on and on about. If you try to frame the boundaries, be prepared for the fact that no one likes to draw inside the lines.

    Of course, not-so-secretly, it’s actually quite disturbingly pleasant to see people voice their crankiness with me. Nothing like an extremist pissy post to get people riled up enough to scream back.

  • And the pleasure is mutual. I need to occasionally express a counterpart to my “SmileGuy” alterego :D. Glad you find the dissent pleasant instead of insulting.

  • Well said danah.

    The whole “disconnect” and “ewww, your laptop makes you unapproachable” attitude is simply conservative ludditism in disguise.

    Guess what folks. We’re evolving. You want to stick with your old obsolete ways? Go right ahead. The rest of us are evolving better and more efficient and less “hung up on our own insecurities” ways of communicating and interacting at the drop of a fuzzy hat, and everyone is invited.

    We don’t have everything figured out, but that’s the fun part. Leave the fears and insecurities behind and dare to be socially awkward and perhaps even learn new modes of interaction. Free your mind.

  • Mike

    “You want to stick with your old obsolete ways? Go ahead.”

    That sounds both condescending and not very open. Does your new mode of interaction include taking a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude ?

    Come on. Asking people to stop typing and have face-to-face conversations isn’t some sort of crazy taboo here. There’s a reason why people like going to SXSW, and at least some of it is because it’s not a webcasted-only gigantic online event…it’s a place where you can physically go and meet and talk with people.

    Not everyone has social awkwardness, and not everyone is the life of the party, either. There’s room for both.

  • Layne

    Ahh…
    “Square” is to jazzbos as “luddite” is to…

  • Oh, this is rich. The idea that David Nunez, a guy whose idea of a good time is building robots, is a luddite, is hilarious. The idea that having your nose in a laptop doesn’t make you unapproachable is ridiculous. Here’s an experiment: If you are at SXSW and you see someone nose-to-the-laptop, approach and say in a friendly voice “Hey, I saw you were noodling away at your laptop, and I wanted to say Hi.” Or imagine being on the receiving end of that.

    If you don’t want to be sociable, that’s fine. David is pointing out that if you’ve travelled N miles to a social event, you might as well get something out of the social aspects of that event, and is describing ways to go about that.

    Me, I live in Austin. I don’t do SXSW. I’m going to be anti-social.

  • dAnAh is upset – again

    So it was about a year ago – that danah boyd got real upset at me for posting an image of a host of a party (we were putting on) having fun. She felt as though it wasn’t a very professional way of promoting a ‘professional’ party. I stated at the time …

  • carl

    Charming as always, Tantek.

    Wanting to unplug doesn’t make someone a luddite.

    The real world will always be infinitely more interesting.

    You and Danah could both stand to pull your head out of your asses for awhile and breath some fresh air.

    FWIW, if I think someone is disturbing a panel (or me, during one), I will turn their laptop off for them. I have no problem bringing the real world to bear. You want to work? Go to your fucking hotel room, assholes. At LEAST go sit on the floor out of the audience seating where you are nothing more or less than an obnoxious distraction.

    The problem with your “I paid my money” argument is: SO DID I, AND I DON’T AGREE WITH YOU.

  • Here’s what I don’t get.

    David isn’t an sxsw employee. He’s not a sorority social coordinator making up rules, with the power to punish offenders with ostracism. He’s just some guy. It’s personal recommendation, not a mandate.

    I like backchannels at conferences. At a conference where you meet people you’ve known only online, the backchannel helps find who you know in the room. But I’m not offended by David’s post, I’m amused, because I read it as one person thinking up ways to try to make sxsw warmer.

    Disclosure: I’m a friend of David’s.

  • vanilla chin

    Who are you people?

    Looks to me like some dude created a post to help people out. Seems innocent enough to me. I’ve never been to SXSW but it sure seems intimidating. Unfortunately, this post with its retarded supporters only reinforces that impression.

    I can’t believe that Ani DeFranco lyrics are being so horribly bastardized in support IM’ing while someone is speaking or that there are like 22 comments on this topic or that I was so pissed reading this post that I added one.

    Danah, if you are so stressed, stay home and save your money. Co-Presence my ass.

  • Steve Mohr

    Reading all of your posts, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

    a) Adam and Vanilla are both world-class d*ckheads

    b) the original poster is absolutely right

    BTW Adam, if I ever met you in real-life, do me a favor and remind me to kick your @ss

    Regards,
    Steve Mohr

  • Steve Mohr

    Oh, and one more thing, Vanilla…

    I don’t see how you could “bastardize” Ani DiFranco. With all due respects to Zephoria, Ani DiFranco has to be one of the worst artists in the recording industry.