Once upon a time I led a session or two at ConvergeSouth, the semi-annual web-head summit that takes place right here in Greensboro. This year, I just showed up and started rolling. It was a lack of tactics on my part; having meant to attend but never bothering to register, I promptly forgot about the damn thing until Friday morning. That's when a series of newsworthy events failed to happen and I found myself surrounded by producers annoyed that I was still in the building and blocking their view of The View. It was then I glanced at my Twitter page and saw news of the steepening think tank at North Carolina A&T State University. Knowing I’d have to somehow squeeze ninety seconds of TV out of a room full of computer geeks, I headed over anyway. After all, these are my people!
Or were they?
Once my eyes adjusted to the cavernous classroom, I found myself staring at a bunch of strangers. They weren't staring back, of course. Rather, their collective gaze was fixated on their laptops, their Blackberries, their iPads. Hey, this IS a tech conference! Giving the speaker one's undivided attention is Two Thousand and Late, anyway. Besides, what fun is it to hang with the techno-crowd if you can't electronically notify your disciples that you are in fact, hanging with the techno-crowd. Don't answer that. Just know that as I scanned the crowd, I did spot a few familiar faces. Polinsky, Wharton, Ainbinder, Hwang... Fine folks all the way around, but barely a fraction of the insatiable communicators that founded this gathering five years ago. 'What happened to the old gang?' I wondered as I trudged up the stairs. Did politics ruin the fun? Did infighting trump future-speak?
Is the McRib really back to stay this time?
I never found out, for no sooner did I grow bored with making smart people nervous than the keynote speaker captured my attention. More on him in a minute, but can I just tell you potent a tool even the crappiest TV camera can be? For example, an auditorium full of forward-thinking early adopters with heavy disdain for mainstream media and a raging gadget habit will STILL run their fingers through their hair whenever a fancycam is pointed their way. Anarchists, assassins, ar-teests ... no matter the mindset it's just human nature to sit up a little straighter whenever some camera-schlub cranks up the ole vanity-enhancer. If that weren't enough, nine out of ten audience members were absorbed in their Twitter feeds. Cradling my own mobile device (once called a "phone"), I knew that with a single hashtag I could plant my thoughts on the screens of the very folk who were clocking me out of the corners of their collective eye.
'Is it just me - or is the cameraman gassy?', I wanted to tweet, but sadly lacked the grapes to hit SEND.
Besides, it was too late for my tomfoolery - for by now the keynote speaker was really hitting his stride. Looking down at the program, I saw his name: Brent D. Payne, SEO Director. 'Cool', I thought - not entirely sure what SEO stood for. Turns out, it's Search Engine Optimization, a concept a needy narrator type like myself can really get behind. So could everyone else in the auditorium apparently, for folks actually started glancing up from their screens every now and then, before muttering to themselves and changing their status updates for the twelfth time in so many minutes. Not that Brent D. Payne minded. Dude was used to it. Listening to him run through surefire ways to increase your web-traffic, it occurred to me he'd been semi-ignored by classier crowds that this. Then I started tweeting tips myself, knowing that if I followed my new hero's every rule, I'd be overseeing a media empire to rival Howard Stern's, instead of sitting here nursing a cocktail and talking to you...
Not that I don't value our special times. Really, it's isn't you. It's me. I need some time to work on ME...