What I learned at SXSW

I learned many things at SXSW Interactive.

First and foremost, of course, I learned that geeks are a lot of fun. There were interesting and relevant panels starting at 10am everyday, and when they ended at 6pm, the parties started and went until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning. The networking and connecting were amazing and fabulous.

I went to a panel on what teenagers want online and on their cell phones, and what they had to say was really interesting. There were really three points that seemed particularly salient:

  1. Teenagers don’t use e-mail except to communicate with adults (teachers, family, etc.). Instead they communicate through their cohort’s social networking site of choice (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.).
  2. Teenagers don’t use cell phones to talk to each other. Instead, they use them to text message and to play games. This was also true of the participants at SXSW, and I found it rather disconcerting. My old dinky cell phone just wasn’t up to the challenge, and I’m considering getting an iPhone so I can manage to stay in touch with my more technology-enabled new friends.
  3. Teenagers don’t watch TV on TV – they watch it online. Based on this point in the panel, and many other conversations about technology, I’ve got to say that I disagree with my new friend Sarah Dopp’s position that TV and Internet time are as different as reading an book and watching TV. Rather, I posit the point that Internet time is a larger, more general category that can and does include TV time. Furthermore, they do both need to be categorized as “screen time” because of the very real impact on our human eyes, brain, and body when we sit still and stare at a screen – regardless of what is on it.

These points about communication are relevant to anyone who is trying to communicate with teenagers, including parents and teachers. Generally the most effective way to reach someone is the way they tend to communicate with their friends in passing. While of course teenagers continue to hang out in person, they are as often as not texting a friend who is in the same room with private commentary on the public conversation. This is something that many adults like teachers and parents just don’t seem to fully get, and so they stand to loose out on the full context of their conversations with technologically savvy teenagers.

I also met a number of sex bloggers (and missed more that I had hoped to catch!). As this blog straddles the world between sex and parenting, it’s been hard for me to figure out really where I belong. So far, I have aimed my time and communication at the parenting blogging world. It was eye-opening and fun to begin talking with the sex bloggers as well.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I have to say I agree with you on the TV/reading/Internet thing — though with the caveat that the Internet experience is highly dependent on the user. I know people who use the Internet in an extremely passive way — solely serving as recipients of information, watching videos and checking out MySpace and treating the Internet in a way similar to the way people treat TV — and I’ve also seen people use the Internet to create and explore and be extremely active. It’s difficult to draw a hard line here, as — unlike books or TV — the Internet offers a vast range of experiences.

  2. “Furthermore, they do both need to be categorized as “screen time” because of the very real impact on our human eyes, brain, and body when we sit still and stare at a screen – regardless of what is on it.”

    Excellent point.


  3. Ugh, and I would lump texting/twittering/boomeranging/etc time in with all of that.

  4. I was thinking about Robert’s point this weekend and trying to decide what I thought about ‘texting/twittering/boomeranging’ – I completely agree if it is on a computer screen. I’m really not sure it qualifies as ‘screen time’ on a normal cell phone. I do think hand held games count as screen time. What about the I phone? I’m just not sure. Dr Rayne? Your opinion?

  5. Dorian, I think that cell phones are really emerging into screen time – the iPhone is the best example of that. And everyone who’s anyone, of course, has an iPhone! 🙂 They’re small screens, but they’re still screens.

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