Austin Bay

What began as a local Austin, Texas, celebration of live music and slacker chic has become emblematic of a global phenomenon: individual economic innovators, open-minded marketing professionals and individual investors connecting poly-digitally to kick start wealth creation.

Personal observation confirms that Austin's South By Southwest expo -- the music venues, the film festival, but especially the interactive technology networking conference -- is poly-digital.

The pun makes a serious point about human relations, 11th century B.C. and 21st century A.D. Digital communications systems, via Internet and cell phone, have given individuals near-instant inter-continental reach. Calling home to Texas from Kabul and Baghdad was a snap; I pushed one button, the "Bay Home" speed dial. However, Kabul and Baghdad aren't easy places -- they're dicey. Since shrapnel is the worst kind of air pollution, I wore a flak jacket and helmet while chatting with my wife.

Which brings us to fingers, those digits. Fingers, those wriggly, tactile extensions of your hand, are the original human digital connection.

At the SXSW Interactive sessions and mixers, plain old handshakes made of digital fingers (OK, also an occasional kiss) advance deals begun by digital email or the chance discovery of a fascinating website.

A handshake is a digital ritual to seal a deal. It affirms mutual trust, which involves mutual confidence and security.

Digital communication and digital connectivity have not translated into digital trust. The headline media event for SXSW 2014 was Edward Snowden's address to a live SXSW audience. Snowden, having filched megabytes of NSA surveillance secrets, is on the lam somewhere in Russia. Computer viruses, Chinese People's Liberation Army hacker brigades, NSA cyber surveillance, the Obama Administration CIA spying on California Sen. Diane Feinstein -- indeed, hacking and tapping and stealing and intimidating certainly undermine digital trust.

In business, that area of human relations, trust definitely matters. Despite centuries of aristocratic bigotry (nations of mere shopkeepers! how tasteless!) and roughly nine decades of Red Diaper Baby agitation-propaganda in American media and academia (capitalists! mere shopkeepers!) business is a very human activity. Adam Smith knew it -- Homo economicus. But commerce doesn't work without trust.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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