* This is first in a new occasional series, called The Last Post, where – thanks to the inconvenience of having a day job, and being somewhat lazy – yours truly arrives at the arse end of a raging internet meme to offer up some half-baked and ultimately unenlightening musing on stuff you’ve been reading about elsewhere for days. Stay tuned!
I’ve been watching with wonderment as All The Big Bloggers soil themselves in fury over BusinessWeek journalist Sarah Lacy’s splendidly misguided attempt to interview Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the South by Southwest digital festival in Austin, Texas. [See it all on video, or just the worst bit]
I watched from the discomfort of my desk here in London, and was going to try and thread my miscellaneous thoughts into some grand meta-theme, But, frankly, having popped my back carrying my MacBook to Manchester and back yesterday, I’m hardly in the mood.
Instead, some bullet points, arranged through the painkiller haze in roughly in the order they occurred to me. We all prefer lists, don’t we? It’s just like real PowerPoint, after all.
• First, some sympathy for Lacy. Indeed, my first idea for this post was to complain that the audience simply blithely turned up without doing any background research on Lacy at all. I mean: have they read BusinessWeek lately? If they were looking for insight or revelation, they’d have done better heading for the bar. They shouldn’t have been surprised at the soft-sudding Zuckerberg got, or the BusinessWeek hack’s clear belief she was a big part of the show (as so wonderfully caricatured by Paul Carr). But then I thought nobody would get the gag – sarcasm doesn’t work on the page, does it?
• Then, I came to think of it, I’d seen Lacy in action before – she “interviewed” Kevin Rose at LeWeb in Paris in December. I’d rated her session pretty pointless and anodyne then, but hardly worthy of a blog post, let alone a salvo of abuse.
• The person who suggested that Robert Scoble should have stepped on stage and done the interview instead proves only one of two things: (i) that satire is alive and well and spending some time in Austin, Texas OR (ii) that crack abuse is still worryingly prevalent in the interactive industries. And proves my next point, which is…
• Lacy does get more abuse, I’m convinced, because she’s a woman, and good looking. Were she a grey-haired, paunchy old man from BusinessWeek, she’d have been written-off, I’m sure, as a bit lame, but the scandal wouldn’t have erupted so.
• Lacy doesn’t help herself by using flirting as an interview technique, or by making clear in a video interview after The Event that she’s so big-time and Big Business Writerly that she hardly needs to pay attention to the geek audience which only wants to know about APIs and shit. Jeff Jarvis makes some good points about what went wrong with her interview. I’d offer that she seemed more concerned about how she came across – through a lens irrelevant to the setting she was actually in – than how her interviewee came across, or the utility of the whole exercise to the audience.
• Once she made that mistake, it quickly became clear how really, really dangerous it is to be slightly rubbish in front of the wrong audience. Once, it was possible to make mistakes at a geek gathering and recover. I’ve seen far worse than Lacy’s performance pass unnoticed. Conference hosts and speakers who were patently unprepared and/or drunk. Genuinely shocking presentations (one, memorably, invoking the memory of Ghandi to sell rubbish mobile phones – buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about it sometime) and the accidental spilling of company secrets which would – had they left the room – got people fired. Now, all the audience is always on – Twittering away, with a blog to fire off on at length later, interconnected to the nth degree with everyone else in the room, and everyone who gives a damn in the rest of the world, shielded by – if not anonymity – enough distance not to be actually, physically, banjoed by the person they’re insulting. Thusly, and uninhibited, vast waves of geek ire roll out across the ether at the speed of light.
• Finally, a little self-loathing: we conference-guzzling, globetrotting massively digitally connected geek blogextroverts are cocks. I mean – really. We’re writing long essays all over the webs about a BusinessWeek hack of limited renown interviewing – poorly, but not criminally badly – a techie of massive potential wealth but non-scaling personality (or, by the sounds of things, insight. This happens – genius people manage to crank out one brilliant thing but don’t have much more to say or, in the end, do). We could focus our efforts on stuff that matters, and leave the poor Sarah to slowly realise her sucky stage skills are neither Alpha, nor Omega, nor even really yesterday’s news. Is this – really and truly – the most significant thing to come out of SXSW? If it is, no business should send anyone to this gathering again.