Is Blogging Dead? was the title of the presentation directly before mine at SXSW. Asking and answering the question was a spritely woman from an aggregator website. I cannot recall her or its name. As I write this, at 35,000 feet, I also cannot access the Internet and provide you with that information. Yet, when I get home I likely won’t do it either. Not because the speaker wasn’t articulate, enthusiastic or charming. She was. But I’ve heard her rhetoric before. Blogging has died a thousand times in the last decade. “Nobody reads them.” I do. “It’s no longer a good marketing tool.” Was it ever?

If you think I took umbrage with her message because I am a passionate blogger you are partly right. But it was her insinuation –shared by countless others- that blogging suffers because it can’t “grow one’s brand” or create “viable revenue streams” that really fired me up.

Maybe if most of these critics were actually writers instead of Internet gurus and professional speech givers they would appreciate blogging like so many others and I do. Blogging does incalculable good for my wellbeing. Measuring it strictly by numbers seems harshly one-dimensional.

My point in cartoon form, by Hugh Macleod

While I appreciate a growing and loyal audience immensely, I also adore the mental workout blogging provides, regardless of audience size, both in terms of honing my writing skills and expressing myself.

If we are indeed “brands” then mine is a peculiar one. Expressing opinions on advertising, popular culture and miscellaneous is like working out in a mental gym. Joe Blow famously stated, “I write so I will know what I am thinking.” Well, I’m the same way. As a matter of fact I find I often become wiser on a particular issue just by writing about it. Sometimes, I literally change my thinking while addressing a topic. Imagine if other so-called “thought leaders” did the same.

I don’t believe Gidget the Internet Guru had any of this in mind when she harped on blogging. ROI obsession frustrates me. It’s why so many industry leaders come off as geeky pimps. To them, social media, Apps and the like are only as good as their ratings –whatever dubious criteria that’s based on. Which is bullshit.

Don’t misread me. I write for an audience. I do not journal like a college freshman. But exploiting my audience or going off track to get a bigger one is not this blog’s primary purpose. Nor is it mine.

“And another thing…”

Finished my 15 minutes of SXSW fame, delivering a “quickie” presentation called Signs and the Evolution of Ambient. Bit nerve wracking this one, on account of the round robin approach with presenters: one up one down and another in the wings. It kind of worked though, especially given attention spans of wired to the gills audience.

Among other things, my discussion dealt with human being’s seemingly innate compulsion to imbue meaning into just about anything. Creating and/or perceiving signs are an inevitable part of the human experience, transcending mediums and technology. Graffiti, tattoos, constellations, billboards… all signs. As such they attempt to compel belief and behavior. Modern advertising is merely an extension of this age-old process.

6. Cave drawings

8. Tattoo

18. Apple
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign!”

Given I was at the epicenter of Interactivity I relished pointing out that low-tech does not necessarily mean less powerful. On the contrary. For advertisers, signs can be more humanly relevant than any other media.

Technology is grand but I think many marketers (and by default most everyone at this festival) try too hard proving how contemporary they/we are, by desperately and perhaps naively competing with screens.

I gave the following example on the ill effects of tech worship. In the 70’s, digital watches were the rage. So cool, we all had to have one! And then we didn’t. A traditional watch face is timeless. Ironically, digital watches have become nostalgic. I know it’s a flawed comparison but it makes good oratory.

After presentation w/ colleagues from gyro…

I’ll be modifying this presentation (obviously) for a presentation at ad:tech San Francisco in April. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Turmoil in the Libya!
Catastrophe in Japan!
Tiger’s Blood & Adonis DNA!

Remember the bit from Sesame Street where they assembled a group of items and sang that song asking viewers to guess which item(s) didn’t belong? It was a catchy, fun way to teach youngsters about numbers and groupings. By design, choosing correctly was not difficult.

Consider the above headlines, all of them dominating the media and competing for coverage. How would you group them? If you’re like me, then chances are you break them into two camps: frivolous and serious. Obviously, the horrifying situations in Libya and Japan put them into the serious camp. By comparison Sheen Land, NCAA basketball and SXSW must be placed into the more frivolous bucket.

But is that the only way to categorize these events? In terms of popularity one could argue that Sheen belongs in the same group as Libya and Japan. If one aggregated stories about all three (allowing for time differences), Sheen’s metrics would dominate. In the coming days, countless stories about the crisis in Japan will no doubt surpass discussions of anything else. In fact it already has. According to Adweek, “Yahoo News served more pages than in any other hour in its history.”

But not by every metric. Not by mine. Most of the Tweets I’m receiving are about and from the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. What am I consuming most in terms of mass media? The NCAA Tournament. Bracketology.

So, if “serious” equals “important” then how come I’m not consuming important content more? Easy answer: it’s less fun to consume. Like broccoli.

Nothing new about that. When given a choice, People have always preferred to be entertained than informed. Back in the day, the Beverly Hillbillies regularly outperformed even the powerhouse news program, 60 minutes.

The more things change… Even though the Internet and social media allow individuals to customize their content, we still choose entertainment. And while we could debate and discuss this ad nauseam, I’m taking another tack.

What’s new is the changing definition of importance. In the new world importance is more and more defined by numbers. How many “followers?” How many “Likes?” How many “Views?” For example, The Huffington Post claims, perhaps rightfully, to be more “important” than the New York Times. They justify this because of views. Therefore, if the categories game (serious vs. frivolous) is now a numbers game Charlie Sheen is as “important” as Muammar Gaddafi. Call it “virtual importance.”

Don’t read me wrong. Social media has unarguably done tons for positive change, driving the overthrow of Egypt’s government, helping to elect America’s first black President and so on.

But with consumers driving content, as opposed to mass media, the choices we make have become criteria for determining importance. And not just financially but culturally. By that measure, the line between crap and quality is more than blurring, it’s inverting.