What can cult film Weird Science teach us about fusing tech with humanity? McCann’s Ringo Moss explains as he takes us through his SXSW ‘Big tech’ takeouts.
In the 1985 cult film Weird Science, Teen misfits Gary and Wyatt design their perfect woman on their computer, bringing her to life through a freak electrical accident. When they try to recreate the experiment in a fit of bravado, however, they forget to add a human element (a female doll) and summon an enormous missile instead:
Lisa: "You had to be big shots didn't you. You had to show off. When are you gonna learn that people will like you for who you are, not for what you can give them. Well, in your race for power and glory, you forgot one small detail."
Wyatt: "We forgot to hook up the doll."
Lisa: "You forgot to hook up the doll."
And herein lies the theme of this year's SXSW…
Stick with me here... both the visibility of, and narrative around Big Tech at SXSW 2019 reminded me of poor Gary and Wyatt. With the majority of the GAFAM giants keeping a low profile, it seemed that the focus this year was on the realities of the Big Tech's race to power and glory, and the unintended influences it has on society, from political engineering and teen depression, to smartphone related accidents and even the 'selfie wrist' “epidemic”.
Everyone from authors, movie stars, politicians, futurists and silicon-valley mavens took to the stage to discuss how we can influence policy and guidance for a more secure, fair and transparent future.
Elizabeth Warren's session was particularly stark, suggesting that big tech needed to be broken up. It created a ripple effect that created a thread, being regularly referenced in the week of talks that followed. All this was set against the backdrop of Margrethe Vestager (European Commissioner of Competition), back in the real world, orchestrating fines of $1.69B on Google for apparent violations on anti-trust rules.
But the wonderful thing about SXSW is it is never just about the problem, powerful thinking about solutions were abundant, and the key theme was the humanisation of tech, with a focus on empathy.
At a societal level, Jamil Jalik's take on "contact theory"; de-isolating ourselves and getting back into our communities, chimed alongside Brian Solis' refocus around creativity to remove distraction and Douglas Rushkoff's powerful 45 minute Skype monologue, reminding us to be users again, and not the used.
And in tech it seemed that there was broad agreement about the next chapter, bringing the human back into the process. Poppy Crum gave a fascinating talk on the future of empathetic technology that continuously responds to a human environment, but it was tempered by Garry Kasparov explaining the responsibilities we must place on ourselves when we allow tech this deeply into our lives. Even Buzzfeed - a business built on clickbait and psychological design, are fostering a move from measuring success on clicks and views, to measurement of shares; focusing on real world transactions and great experiences as demonstrations of value.
Maybe now then, like Gary and Wyatt at the end of the film, big tech is at a turning point, the race for power and glory is waning. Realising instead that when you stop showing off, and remember the human, people might just like you for who you are.
- Ringo Moss is Managing Partner, Strategy at McCann