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Are you a "digital meerkat"?

Our lion has been feasting on more stories from SXSW – this latest one is all about a very different sort of animal, the digital meerkat….

There’s a lot of them about in Austin, you can see them anywhere there’s a crowd and something to see. You may even be one of them. They gather in groups and pop up at the most inconvenient moments. If you were born in the years BC (Before Cameraphones) you might remember a time when you could go to a gig and watch the band, or visit a gallery to study a famous painting. Simples.

Now you have to peer over several ranks of digital meerkats who are all so keen on capturing the "I was there" moment that they forget to actually be there. Some galleries and museums have even introduced “No selfie sticks” signs to try to deter digital meerkats – like the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris.

It can’t be a coincidence that the evolution of digital meerkats has coincided with a growth in mindfulness courses. So if you’re a digital meerkat at SXSW we recommend turning the clock back by about, say, 300 years: put your phone down, enjoy the event and then tell our lion all about it!

Anon: Digital meerkats I know it’s a thing these days, but I have a question. You’re at an event. It could be a party, a gig, a festival or, in the case in point, a panel session at SXSW. Something significant happens, and there they go, the digital meerkats, raising their phones to take a picture of the stage, or more often the presentation slide. I get, I really do – you want to capture the information.. The best speakers (at least, in my opinion) say up front that their slides will be available, or maybe a one-pager that summarises them. But even then people still do it. And my question is this: are you paying proper attention? Are you listening to what’s being said, or are you fiddling with your camera settings, zooming in, adjusting the focus and the exposure to make sure it’s legible? Are you actually hearing what’s being said? In my experience the best presenters use slides as visual cues. We’ve probably all been in one of those meetings where you get to the table and there’s printout of the deck for everyone, Then they fire up the screen and proceed to read each slide to you, word for word. Good meetings those. Special. But good session are the ones where the speaker really knows their stuff and engages the audience. And I’m so happy that most sessions I’ve been to here have been like that – engaging. So why are people still more concerned with taking pictures? And, more annoyingly, why can’t they turn their phones to silent? It’s like a wave of crickets sweeping the room every time the slide changes. If you do it at a gig, I think you’re losing something of the experience by introducing a physical barrier between you and the live event (as well as potentially stealing copyright, but that’s another issue – I mean, we know not to do it in theatres or cinemas, right?) Or, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I can’t multitask. I can’t take pictures and listen at the same time. Either way, I hope the meerkats are getting as much out of SXSW as I am…

The Lion that was at the centre of 18th Century coffee house culture is roaring again at SXSW 2017.
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