Is what you buy made by slaves? Find out

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By Stewart-Robertson /  15 Mar 2012 , 19:02

The 2012 South by Southwest (SxSW) conference in Austin, Texas, has wrapped up its interactive portion and handed out awards to the best stars of the day on Thursday.

This annual show for technologists, musicians, filmmakers and geeky obsessed reporters usually highlights the best and brightest experiments in the digital world, some which have already been hugely successful, and others that are bound to be.

It is worth looking in particular at the categories of “community” and “activism” where innovative tech solutions make an attempt to raise awareness about pressing and often disturbing issues.

The winner of the activism category for instance was the California-basedSlavery Footprintwhich attempts to make consumers see “how their consumption habits are connected to modern-day slavery”. They offer “an outlet to voice their demand for things made without slave labor”.

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Technologists often like to try to dumb down web-based, mobile and tablet ideas as “storytelling”. Sometimes even the most ordinary stories are extraordinarily worth telling. But all the technology in the world won’t guarantee people will plug into those stories, nor that the making/makers of those stories will make money.

And as fast as access to technology is spreading, there are many people who cannot tell their own stories. Slavery Footprint is very much aimed at those in the West for exploiting those in the developing world, many of whom probably would never buy phone apps, nor even have phones onto which they could download them.

And though Slavery Footprint was the winner, the other finalists also deserve a word of mention.

The Mexican “31K Portraits for Peace” is photographer Diego Huerta’s attempt to “counteract the negative impact of more than 31,000 deaths in the last four years in Mexico”. He photographed 31,000 people with blue paper doves to try to turn “negative thoughts into something positive”. Admirable for its effort, this is a very high-tech response to a serious drug and gang turf war destroying tens of thousands of lives in Mexico.

In Toronto, Canada, One Millionth Tower is a National Film Board of Canada project focusing on the high-rise towers of our urban jungles. Frequently dead concrete from the outside, they are obviously teeming with life inside, and the project gives voiceto residents but within the context of the architecture, transport, local services and community spirit. The creators state “these problems can be solved – it just takes some imagination”. Again, this is a worthy attempt to bring out otherwise silent voices from a cluttered, modern, urban landscape.

This is a more active activist project than the others in some ways for its attempt to mobilise shoppers to change their habits and demand change. All the finalists have shown the diverse potential of technology to tell stories. Even the social media category winner, Storify, insists it is all about “the future of storytelling”

Such web-based activism also presumes that online games might make people think, more effectively than traditional news reports.

The question “now what?” can be applied to any newspaper article, Firstpost blog or SxSW award finalist or winner. Sometimes stories can simply exist and have merit without having to DO anything. And sometimes they need to be used to change the world for the better. It’s you, the readers and users, who ultimately decide. All the technologists can do is hold conferences and show off their wares and hope you take notice.

The full list of finalists can be found here


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