Posted by: nickgerlich | March 12, 2008

Out Of Control

It is every speaker’s worst nightmare to have his or her audience digress from rapt attention to utter disdain and scorn. As a professor, I have dealt with this many times (although since I began teaching online, I have found the attention level has soared). It is never fun to be trying to speak, and be drowned out by the constant din of chatter, snickering, and other annoying behaviors.

Now add in some technology, and watch how bad it gets.

TwitterAt last night’s keynote at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Facebook’s wunderkind founder Mark Zuckerberg was beaten at his own game. Social networking is the cause celebre of Web 2.0, and it was the upstart Twitter that kicked him in the backside.

The 23-year-old Zuckerberg sat onstage with journalist Sarah Lacy; the keynote was to be a casual interview Q&A session. But the crowd grew impatient with Lacy’s lakc of hard-hitting questions, with snickers and verbal jabs coming from all corners. And people started Twittering.

It’s one thing to perhaps text a message to someone while stranded in a boring meeting, but it is quite another to broadcast it to your world of Twitteratis. It’s almost like a CB radio, except that your reception is not limited to only a mile or two.

Breaker 1-9. I’ve got a lame interview going on here at SXSW.

“I hear you, good buddy. You should have gone to Stubb’s BBQ instead.”

From all accounts, the interview digressed to the point where Lacy handed the mic over to the audience, who proceeded to drill Zuckerberg with more pertinent questions. Like how and why Facebook added the nefarious Beacon advertising platform to track users and match them to advertisers.

Kinda makes me glad I’m just a professor with an occasional classroom to manage.

Still, the broader issue here is how Web 2.0 is now being leveraged for mob scenes, which is pretty much what happened last night in Austin. Who would have thought?

And then again, it is possible this very thing could occur in the classroom. Imagine an exam going on, and folks are Twittering exam questions and answers to the world. Or the learned professor is droning on and on, while students seek social gratification from their wifi-enabled laptops and phones.

It all makes Facebook seem kind of tame and innocuous. And Twitter deplorable.

Dr “We Got Us A Convoy” Gerlich


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