SXSW 2017: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

March 17, 2017

I attended South by Southwest (SXSW) 2017 to gather exciting new digital marketing takeaways for my colleagues at BSTRO.

First on my agenda was the keynote speech by United States Senator Cory Booker, who kicked things off by proclaiming that we were all at SXSW because we were part of a “massive conspiracy of love.” Surrounded by a group of digital marketing and tech folks, that statement first struck me as a bit of a stretch—but I would wager that the majority of people did come to the conference because they are genuinely passionate about what they do.

As I continued listening, I understood how love really can lead to tech innovation, and how it might help develop solutions that unite us all.

What’s the Difference Between Tolerance and Love?

What really stuck me was when Booker discussed the difference between tolerance and love, which I thought was an interesting distinction given much of the political discourse in the United States. As he explained: “Tolerance builds fences, love tears them down. Tolerance crosses the street when it sees you coming, love embraces you. Tolerance says I don’t need you. Love says you are essential.”

Expanding on the theme of love in America today, Booker spoke of the “civic gospel” that all Americans share. He talked about common refrains, such as “liberty and justice for all” that we find in our shared documents and songs. These are universal beliefs, values and ideals that we all hold to be dear to us as a people and a nation.

How Technology Can Create Meaningful Connections

How does technology fit into all of this? It can be powerful at making connections – as long as it’s used wisely.

Booker lamented that through technology like social media networks and chat apps, we can create virtual bubbles around our individual lives in which we no longer see people who are different from us. This compounds our confirmation bias, and as he put it, “Not seeing each other creates a very dangerous reality.”

Think of your own Facebook or Twitter feeds, and how the stories you’re shown usually fit within your own worldview. This is the result of algorithms working to identify what kind of content you like and engage with, and showing you more of it – while showing you less and less of the things that you wouldn’t find agreeable. I’ve experienced this in my own life

My Facebook feed is fairly diverse because I have friends with different beliefs, particularly when it comes to politics. Like others with friends from different backgrounds and living in different parts of the country (or the world), the content I engage with can be highly varied. In that sense, technology is an incredible tool to connect us with those who we don’t agree with.

Following Booker’s thinking, if we self-segregate based on political beliefs, and this conscious or subconscious grouping is echoed in geographical patterns, it can be hard to find people who disagree with you politically within a realistic physical range.

How can we get closer to people who have different worldviews, so we can learn from each other and embrace with love, instead of crossing the street in tolerance? The answer is technology.

Technology makes distance obsolete. It enables you to get a better understanding of what someone in Oklahoma is thinking about, even if you work at a San Francisco creative agency. So, is there a way for us to leverage technology to increase our understanding of one another? Is there a way for us to create digital pen pals to help combat the polarization of beliefs? Cory Booker’s keynote speech gave SXSW attendees lots to think about before we scurried off to our sessions.

By Lana Olmer, Account Executive