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I Haven’t Done This Much Notetaking Since College: A Report From #SXSW

Hello from vivacious Austin! I’ve just wrapped up two days of panels and events and already I’ve seen some amazing things. Here are the two best events I’ve attended so far:

Clay Shirky’s “Why Would We Think Social Media is Revolutionary?” was absolutely engrossing. Shirky explained that social media tools can act as leverage in a revolution, that they can allow amateurs access to the public sphere and the free exchange of information. However, information is not a panacea.  “Governments aren’t afraid of informed individuals. They are afraid of synchronized action” Shirky said, noting that Muammar Gaddafi banned soccer prior to the revolution to prevent Libyans from having a place to congregate. Social media tools not only allow citizens to exchange information and synchronize their actions, but to document human rights abuses.

Throughout Shirky explained that the “Theater of Collapse” – the blitz of media attention and foreign support and activism triggered by the toppling of a state – is less important than the social and political movements that preceded it. To illustrate this point he showed two pictures from the Egyptian revolution: one of Christians forming a line to protect Muslims at prayer and a protester kissing a soldier who had joined the people in revolution. He explained that the Kifaya Movement (Egyptian for “enough”) had created the revolutionary capital to make organized, peaceful resistance possible.

Rather than clamoring for a democratic society, global citizens want more responsive government. Shirky advised the audience members to invest time and energy into revolutionary action that was more gradual – to play “the long game.” One program he recommended was the United Nation’s Online Volunteering Service, which allows you to volunteer your skills online to assist development projects around the world.

The New York Times’ Jennifer Preston and Brian Stelton’s “How Social Media Fueled Unrest in Middle East” was filled with human rights activists, journalists, and experts who have worked in the region. Most of the conversation focused on the successes and failures of social media in the past few years, outlining the ways in which social media has abetted dictators and violent regimes and the ways it has saved lives and galvanized protesters. There was a tense moment about halfway through when a man in the back chastised the room for focusing on social media while Gaddafi slaughtered his own people. Andy Carvin from NPR explained that he had lost communication with all of his Libyan contacts when the revolution started and noted that social media had been used by Tunisian activists to identify and avoid snipers’ nests and had possibly saved lives.

The discussion progressed to whether or not journalists should take a side in the conflicts they cover. Karina Brisby from OxFam asked if journalists felt a duty to the people they put “above the parapet” and a producer from PBS discussed arriving in Egypt and finding out how few secure communication lines there were for her to use and still keep her contacts safe. During the conversation it was learned that Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a cameraman for Al Jazeera, had been killed – Jaber was shot by unknown assailants in an ambush near Benghazi. As one activist pointed out, dictators are learning from other dictators, and there is no guarantee that despots won’t adapt to crack down on their people in more targeted ways.

This has already been one of the most fascinating and transformative events I’ve ever been a part of and I’d like to thank RMJ for inviting me to present with her and the readers of my blog for donating, so I could get the very most out of SXSW.

P.S. To the guy at the Limousines/Washed Out show at the Mohawk last night, the one who pointed at my Grizzly Fetus Organic Cotton T-Shirt, said “Tiger Beatdown!” and then responded to my claim to write for this very website with a skeptical look: feel ashamed, bro.


  1. Annie wrote:

    not to be super-anal-nitpicky, and really this is more an issue with Shirky’s discussion than yours, but solely crediting Kifaya with the “revolutionary capital” necessary is not wholly truthful. Kifaya has contributed a lot to the uprising, yes, but other (separate) movements (e.g. 6th of April Youth Movement, the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook group) can be credited just as much (if not moreso) with organizing peaceful resistance.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Garland wrote:

    I changed the sentence to credit it as one of the movements involved – Shirky mentioned a few movements in Egypt and Iran and I only wrote down Kifaya.

    Must run, airport!

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  3. Kit wrote:

    Here’s how Clay Shirky feels about women:

    I read (own, actually) his book Here Comes Everybody. It’s blindly optimistic and hugely racefaily.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Kit: Actually, I know Clay Shirky. He’s a good dude; I consider him a friend. And if he’s as anti-feminist as he’s painted to be in some corners of the Internet, I should probably let him know that this is a feminist blog, so he can stop being all supportive and shit. “WARNING: I AM A LADY,” my message shall read.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink
  5. Maria wrote:

    @Sady: ah come on, really? Kit points out a fairly patronising chauvinist attitude in someone you’re a buddy of and your response is “well, he totally can’t be sexist if he’s friends with ME”?

    Kinda feminist 101 to acknowledge that sexist behaviour can come from ‘good dude’ allies as well as total dicks/opposition? (Er, hello the left wing.) And note that Kit linked to a post BY HIM so it’s not him being ‘painted’ as anything right there.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    @Maria: I don’t like the title of that piece; I don’t think it serves Shirky’s argument. I think there are some structural complexities that he misses. I think he’s dead-on accurate about women being afraid to self-promote, and about that being a weakness which holds us back. (Though I wish he’d spent more time engaging with what happens when women DO self-promote, or are seen as too powerful; there’s typically a heavy backlash, which makes them wish they hadn’t.) However, here’s what I’m also not a fan of: The fact that one piece, ONE, is brought up every. single. time Shirky’s name gets mentioned, and is used to vilify him as the worst misogynist ever ever ever in the world. One piece is being used to define him. His later responses aren’t mentioned. The rest of his work typically isn’t mentioned (I have to disagree with the above commenter on Here Comes Everybody, but gold star to her for mentioning that Shirky has written more than one piece over the course of his lifetime). I hate — hate hate hate — the nastiness of the above commenter. All Garland does is mention that he found Shirky’s panel interesting, and here she comes, swooping in to save/ruin the day, with a link to a blog post and the comment “here’s what Clay Shirky thinks of women.”

    Like: How DARE Garland like his work? How DARE we even MENTION Shirky without piling on him and calling him a monster? How DARE the feminist blogosphere be used as ANYTHING BUT PUNISHMENT for this man? I’ve seen this happen to other people; it’s happened to Shirky before, on this blog, and it’s happened to other people, where if someone is named as Anathema over one incident or piece, you are not so much as allowed to mention them without insulting them. And if you say something nice about them, well. GOD FORBID! Commenters just swoop the fuck in and demand, DEMAND, that you insult that person. One woman said she wanted to “punch me in the face” for saying something nice about Jessica Valenti. It’s one of the ugliest things about feminist blogging, and I’ll never get over it.

    And here’s what it does: It gives the lie to the idea that feminist blogging is about making things better. We don’t accept the apologies; we don’t acknowledge that people learn and change with time; we don’t do anything, ANYTHING, but act like bullies and decide that we’re going to be mean little shits to Target X on the Internet, forever and ever and ever, because he or she had a day where he or she just wasn’t feminist enough for us. It is only, only EVER, a form of hollow self-glorification; we only do it, only EVER do it, to give the message that we are Perfect Feminists and Target X is not. Just to prove that we’re better than someone else, we forbid everyone we know to mention a given name, unless an insult is attached to it.

    We should be better than this, I’ll tell you that much.

    That blog post does not constitute the entirety of what Shirky “thinks of women.” It is not impermissible for people to like his other work now. And that kind of snitty, grudge-holding behavior is really unbecoming, self-righteous, and ugly. I think Shirky’s gender politics are very good, and I mention that I have been a beneficiary of Shirky’s politics because, yo. If you’re going to oversimplify him as a misogynist on this blog, you should maybe be aware of the fact that this blog exists largely because of Shirky’s support. Like the feminism here? Blame Clay Shirky! And what he “thinks of women!”

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  7. Maria wrote:

    ^just to rephrase: kit points out what SHE sees as a fairly patronising chauvinist attitude. Whether or not YOU see it as that is, your argument for him not being sexist (or racefaily, not that you addressed that criticism) is not supported by saying that he supports you – cause you’re one feminist, and you can support one feminist and still be sexist. (this is the case with about half of my male friends.)

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  8. NomadiCat wrote:

    @ Sady: I’d like to quote your entire, beautiful rant up there for truth, because DAMN. I’ll refrain, at the risk of being redundant and tl;dr-ing the comments section. But paragraph 3 is a particular gem and I feel compelled to post it all over my favoritest feminist blogs on the internet.

    It’s been about 7 years since I began poking around feminist blogs and spaces. I’m a writer who has self-identified as a feminist since middle school, but I’ve held myself back from writing or commenting too extensively in the blogosphere. I was painfully conscious of never being a Perfect (Enough) Feminist to really feel comfortable putting myself out there, knowing the inevitable pile-on that would occur if I stepped out of line. It’s only in the last year, as I realized that there is no such thing as a Perfect Feminist, no matter how zealously people try to sell themselves as such** that I felt comfortable contributing to the conversation, even in ostensibly “safe spaces”.

    Shorter version: Fuck yeah, QFT, rock on Sady Doyle!

    **This is different from those who are put forth by others as hallowed examples of Perfect Feminism. Claiming the title and having it thrust upon you are wildly different things.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  9. NomadiCat wrote:

    And on the actual topic of the post: I had no idea that there were panels like this at SXSW. I’ve heard about the music and movies, certainly, but this sounds absolutely fascinating and nothing like my initial concept of the festival.

    I’m intrigued by this “Theater of Collapse” idea that you mentioned. A friend and I have been debating the role of corporate media in global events like the BP oil spill, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, and the potential nuclear disaster in Japan. I think I’ll be looking into some of the stuff you talk about to see how it fits with what we’ve observed.

    All in all, thank you for reporting on this, Garland! I’d never really paid much attention to SXSW as a place for these kinds of discussions in the past, but I’m definitely going to from now on. If they keep having quality programming like this, I might even be tempted to go one of these years.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  10. Maria wrote:

    Apologies – I hadn’t heard of Clay Shirky before this post, and I appreciate the context of these comments much better now.

    On the one hand: I’m sorry I took umbrage because I think you’re right about ‘hollow self-glorification’, and I don’t want to support that stubbornly blinkered view of people that you describe so well above, and that I kind of feel I’ve fallen prey to in defending Kit’s post.

    On the other hand: I’m glad I took umbrage because your rant defended and clarified Shirky’s politics better than the original comeback to Kit could have.

    Apologies again for jumping down your throat. Thanks for taking the time to write such a good rant.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  11. Kiri wrote:

    if someone is named as Anathema over one incident or piece, you are not so much as allowed to mention them without insulting them.


    I mean, I get being angry at people. I get not being able to forgive them. But I am rapidly losing patience with the idea that, if we ever quote or reblog certain people, for any reason, that means we don’t really care about whatever horrible thing this person said. I mean, what are we supposed to do — not refer to or quote anyone else ever?

    And I realize, with regret, that I have helped perpetuate this idea, because this — the dogpiling, the bullying, the writing-off of people forever because of this one thing they said once — is what we’re Supposed to Do in social justice blogging, and failure to do so may make us the next targets. And so, even as I speak out against it, I feel utterly stuck. It’s infuriating.

    Anyway, I want to thank you for your rant and stuff.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  12. Em wrote:

    It’s all context. You don’t have to insult a transphobic radfem (for instance) if you want to post a quote from her, but at least mention that shit so people know you’re aware of it and can safely assume you have A Critical View of it and there’s still a reason you’re posting said quote. Which is something I think you do very well, Sady. IIRC you were one of the few bloggers pointing out the many completely uncritical eulogies to Mary Daly.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  13. Kiri wrote:

    Agreed, Em. There’s a difference between, “This person held this problematic stance, so keep that context in mind,” and, “THIS PERSON IS THE VERY WORST FOREVER AND HOW DARE YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR EXISTENCE??”

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Ennu wrote:

    In regards to the Shirky thing – yeah, that does seem to happen quite a lot, and not just in the feminist blogosphere, but the entire progressive/social justice blogosphere. Frequently, it seems like people just aren’t allowed to fuck up at all without being MARKED FOREVER no matter how much they apologize for it or how many times they say they were wrong.
    Melissa McEwan had a couple of posts about not automatically assuming bad faith. I think that’s a large part of the problem. People often treat something that may have been said in ignorance, but was well intentioned the exact same way they would treat something that was clearly hateful and designed to start a fight.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink
  15. Maria wrote:

    True on the context comment. I think it is important exactly what people are being tarred and feathered for, though – Clay Shirky’s one questionable piece on women in business probably isn’t the most relevant thing to expound on in a post like this. But, yes, to use Em’s example, Mary Daly’s raging transphobia isn’t something that should be passed over when eulogising her (as indeed Melissa McEwan did).

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  16. ANM wrote:

    With appx 10 bajillion people writing on the internet, many of which HAVE NOT written sexist, point-missing screeds called “a rant about women,” I am perfectly comfortable with 100% discounting anything this dude says. I had not read anything by him before, so the commenter above who drew attention to the fact is much appreciated in that it provides context for people who didn’t know.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  17. ANM wrote:

    To provide further context, would anybody be defending this guy if he published an article about the ways certain race based cultures may factor into the oppression of African Americans or my own native culture, Native Americans, and then called it “a rant about black people” or “a rant about Native Americans”? I think not, because we would all recognize the inherent racism in that.

    And if he DID publish an article with one of those titles, and if people DID call him out about it, the article would be pulled, apologies would be issued, the title might be changed or the article might be simply removed for good in order to help PARTIALLY make up for the insult.

    But when it’s “a rant about women,” well, we’re all just big old meanie heads for caring, amiright?

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  18. Maria wrote:

    Tricky. I acknowledge your point. The thing is, though, it’s a shitty title for a fairly good article – maybe I WOULD consider forgiving that if the writer of ‘a rant about black people’ showed his mettle in a lot of other ways, like Shirky has apparently done? If it became clear that that was one poorly-thought-out offensively-titled article which was part of a larger body of work which seemed to be working FOR the rights of black people?

    Whadya reck?

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  19. ANM wrote:

    I kind of disagree that it’s a good article. It completely misses the point in my opinion, even Sady acknowledged that she wished it had covered some other various angles. I think the lack of covering those angles, which are really the point of why the phenomenon being discussed happens in the first place, makes the article rather ineffectual. In short, it truly does turn it into simply a “rant about women” and not not the nuanced, pro-woman, feminist piece exploring the real issues that it very likely COULD have been.

    I think any white author capable of writing nuanced, non-bigoted pieces about African Americans, Native American, or other minorities would and absolutely should be held to a higher standard than to title a piece “a rant about (insert minority/oppressed class here)”

    I don’t mean to paint this guy as the end all, be all of antifeminist evil. It’s just that there are plenty of other (women!) feminists writing and not putting out offensive stuff for me to care too much about this guy’s SXSW forum and poorly titled, sexist pieces.

    Friday, March 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  20. Maria wrote:

    It’s not that they shouldn’t be held to a higher standard, it’s that they should be called on bullshit but also have all their work taken into consideration. Eg., all of Clay Shirky’s work might not be like this.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  21. Gnatalby wrote:

    We don’t accept the apologies; we don’t acknowledge that people learn and change with time; we don’t do anything, ANYTHING, but act like bullies and decide that we’re going to be mean little shits to Target X on the Internet, forever and ever and ever, because he or she had a day where he or she just wasn’t feminist enough for us.

    There have to actually *be* apologies to accept though. I just went back to that blog post. I don’t see an “Edited to Add: Oops, sorry!” or a further explanation in comments.

    Forgiveness is great, but it shouldn’t be granted when the other party can’t even acknowledge and try to correct a wrong doing.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  22. angela wrote:

    Have you (Kit, other people who find the Shirky piece problematic) read beyond the title?! I agree with Sady: his piece was not appropriately titled to reflect his argument. But those of you who are referring to this as a sexist screed should take a closer look: both at Shirky and social psychological differences between male and female behavior.

    And there may be 100 bajillion people writing on the internet, but that doesn’t make them new media/social media experts. I think that’s pretty relevant to Tiger Beatdown: maybe you don’t want to read it, but I certainly do.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
  23. ANM wrote:

    Angela, I can’t speak for the others, but I addressed those issues above. I absolutely read the piece, and my comments stand.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink