My Trip to the Lone Star State

In less than 72 hours I will be on my way to Austin, TX for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. I heard you want to avoid the newb forehead stamp, it’s referred to as Southby by the veterans of SXSW, but newb is exactly what I am. For starters I have never been to Texas and more importantly never to a conference of this caliber.

When people ask me what exactly SXSW interactive is (aka my family members) I find it difficult to explain in a concise way. Most people know SXSW because of its music, its humble beginnings in 1987 and film– but the interactive portion is bigger and better than ever. There is overlap between music, film and interactive, not only with dates but with how they relate to each other too. The interactive and film portion of the conference bring together more than 32,000 tech-focused individuals.  I’ll admit I was naïve about SXSW interactive until about a year ago when I really started to focus on health communication and social media.

So what’s in store for me at SXSW? That’s a good question and the short answer is sleep depravation. SXSW Interactive discusses emerging and cutting-edge technologies through 5 days of panels discussion, expert. Yes that list of events is overwhelming. It took me an entire weekend to map out my schedule –I made multiple plans and overbooked just in case I change my mind, or they have a way to clone me while I’m out there.  I didn’t want to limit myself when the schedule is limitless, there are just so many freaking options.

Not only are the days jammed pack with session you also have to be on the lookout for the next big startup – both Twitter and FourSquare blew up at SXSW.  If that wasn’t enough there are scores of exciting networking events and parties, day and night. Some of the companies that are hosting events including, Mashable, Microsoft, frog design, Skype, Meebo, Razorfish, etc, (plus they are free- booze included).

I think I read the first timers guide at least 5 times already – I’m so excited/nervous and would like to avoid any epic disasters. I have packed my bag, downloaded the SXSW mobile app, created a SXsocial profile, and started following SXSW hashtags that are going to be used throughout the week on Twitter. I’m going to go ahead and say it, I’m good to go!

When I first started planning for this trip I was trying to attend as many sessions as possible and land a job. But after some prioritization my goal has changed, I hope to meet some interesting people, learn some new things, and have a good time.  To be honest, after writing this blog, I don’t feel as overwhelmed anymore, now I just can’t wait to get a glimpse of what is unfolding in the world of technology.

In the name of personal health….

It happened all of a sudden. A scratch in my throat. A sudden need to take an early evening nap. A feeling of pressure and congestion in my head. It’s not often that I get sick, but when I do, I Google it.  I don’t have health insurance right now and I quiver at the thought of having to seek medical help if I really need it. And like many people, I rely on the internet to guide me in the right direction.  It’s often the case that we take our own health for granted until we get sick.

As a health and medical journalism student, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal health these days.  I’m 27. And while that may seem young, if you’ve been living life a bit haphazardly in your 20s, the health effects will soon become apparent.  For me, this realization came this fall when I returned to UGA for grad school and looked at photos of my skinny, younger self five years earlier in undergrad.

At the age of 19, I fought my own battle with the bulge, so to speak, and dropped my freshmen 15 and then some. I did it through Weight Watchers. And it was a great way to learn about nutrition and portion size.  But at that age, it was easy to just adhere to the diet and skip the exercise.  I lost 30 pounds without ever really incorporating much of a daily fitness habit. The importance of that program, though, is its ability to connect those who are striving for better health with one another. I worked for Weight Watchers for most of my college years, assisting in the arduous process of weighing customers, informing them of that weeks talking points, and encouraging them with some helpful suggestions when the going got tough. That being said, once I stopped working for them, I lost my focus on the importance of managing my own health and lost touch with a whole group of people that had helped me.

I managed to keep it off for two years after college, until the sedentary lifestyle of a desk job in a rural community slowly and eventually had its toll. Not having physical activity as a part of my daily life proved to be detrimental as my metabolism slowed down in my mid-20s too.  Since December, I’ve been seeing a personal trainer, eating a more balanced and calorie controlled diet and working out for three or four days a week.  The trouble is, even with all the social media interaction on health and ample access to science-based studies regarding healthy weight loss, I still lack motivation.

And this, my friends, is why social media is awesome.  I ran across this little tidbit in doing some research the other day and I have great hope in the ability of friends being able to help friends in their battle for better health. Weight loss, addiction, nutrition, mental illness, stress–we all have stories and we all have the ability to provide support to each other as we seek better health.

This was recently featured on the Facebook Developers blog. And it’s great motivation to create an app that could connect those with similar health goals or interest in a way that makes sharing seemless and frictionless, without much effort at all.  Since college, most of my good friends have moved away and are now located all over the United States. We talk by phone, send emails, communicate via Facebook, but a tool like this would really give us the incentive to encourage each other, share our experiences and share relevant web content about whatever it is we’re striving for.  Not too far in the future, a lack in motivation will soon be remedied by our trusty social network friends and mentors.

Facebook Creep Factor

Where is the line? How far is Facebook allowed to go before its users decide enough is enough? It’s no doubt that age has its place with how users are concerned with their data being collected and saved. The younger generations of users has grown up in the data driven environment and are willing to sell their information, likes and interests for constant communication with ones friends. At what point do the users decide how their information is being used or collected as creepy? This is very important for the social media outlets to discover, because its necessary to determine at what point is it TOO much.

According to an Ad Age article, Facebook made up 52% of sharing in 2011. In fact, the new Facebook Timeline feature (which will be mandatory for the millions of users) will issue information more publicly to allow users to share their information easier, according to a Fox News article by John Quain. Quain even makes the point that “so if it’s illegal for the government to secretly track you, consumers should ask themselves, why isn’t illegal for businesses to do it?“ How convenient and nice of Facebook!

The Take This Lollipop video provides a creepy, fictional account that strikes fear in many who can see the negative aspects of social media. However, it’s these type of fictional portrayal of “social media gone wrong” can turn off the older crowd of users deeming social media as too public or creepy.

Located within the Facebook Privacy Policy is all the necessary information to realize what Facebook does with users data. This puts users at a decision point. Should users continue to allow the creepy activity of taking their information and posts, but continue to utilize the social connection with their friends or risk leaving the social network. Older generations fearing what COULD happen with their information being leaked are more likely to dump the account out.

While Facebook is working to continue to utilize the information posted by its users, it will also monitor how to stay just close enough to the “creep” line and collecting the information of its users, but not too close to drive the traffic away. This line is most important in determine how to keep the interest and “trust” of the younger generations of users. Sure, they might lose some older generation users, but they are not the future. It’s most important to keep in good relations with the younger generation users.

A study by Goldfarb and Tucker, According to Technology, Age and Privacy Concerns, shows patterns of how age is tied in with privacy concerns. This study took  over 3 million surveys conducted by a market research group over an 8 year period to develop their findings. Goldfarb and Tucker found that people refusing to reveal private information online has risen over time and that older individuals are less likely to reveal information than younger generations out of privacy concerns.

A Nielsen blog post shows the relation between phone application use and the concern of privacy by age.

An article in The Joplin Globe, Consumer Confidential: Facebook shows how privacy is passe, shows how privacy issues are divided amongst the generations. The younger generations “…can’t get enough social-media sauce on their cyber-sandwich. They view this technology not as an intrusion but as a life enhancement”. While the older generations, 30 and older, are more likely to pay close attention to privacy settings and what is put out into the open. This article shows the generational divide of how Facebook users react to the “creep” factor and bolster up the privacy settings.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Facebook in Privacy Breach,

“the information being transmitted is one of Facebook’s basic building blocks: the unique “Facebook ID” number assigned to every user on the site. Since a Facebook user ID is a public part of any Facebook profile, anyone can use an ID number to look up a person’s name, using a standard Web browser, even if that person has set all of his or her Facebook information to be private. For other users, the Facebook ID reveals information they have set to share with “everyone,” including age, residence, occupation and photos.” The full details of the Facebook Privacy Policy is shown below.

So, with facebook’s new privacy policies, timeline features and amount of information ALWAYS made public, how does this fit in with the creep factor? Knowing your information is out on the web, does this creep you out? Surely, not enough to actually deactivate your account. Right?