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Opinion Editorials

A different case for canceling SXSW in Austin

(EDITORIAL) SXSW is a massive conference that draws an international crowd, but one mega-population won’t attend amidst coronavirus fears. Time to cancel.

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Internationally, the coronavirus is forcing everyone to adjust their plans – how often they interact in public, and most definitely whether or not they go to crowded places.

Major conferences are being cancelled, the NCAA basketball tournament could be audience-free and televised only, and there are talks regarding whether or not to allow viewers to attend the olympics or if they should be cancelled altogether.

And from March 13-22, there’s SXSW in Austin, Texas where we are headquartered. The organizers have publicly stated, even up to today, that plans will move forward, despite a “handful” of speaker cancellations (including Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey).

A petition to cancel SXSW has spread, garnering over 15K signatures so far. That list of names is snowballing as people are asking their bosses if they can work remotely, buying frozen food in bulk, and worrying about the endless unknowns about the coronavirus (incubation periods, treatments, vaccines, recurring cases).

But is a petition and fear enough to cancel an international conference that boosts a city’s bottom line (and pours billions of dollars into a dependent ecosystem) enough to shut down SXSW? Are we simply overreacting?

Maybe.

Regardless, SXSW is still announcing new featured speakers like Adam Schiff, Beto O’Rourke, and Hillary Clinton. Ignore the theme of that list, and focus on the point that this film, tech, and music mega-conference has done little to assuage fears aside from updating their “safety resources” page to encourage folks to take “precautions” recommended by the World Health Organization.

“SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event,” organizers said in a statement yesterday. “As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health [available here], the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority.”

The conference organizers added, “At this time, no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low. Historically, March is not a peak international travel month in Austin, but we will continue to monitor. Information and practices are changing during this rapidly evolving situation and we will continue to follow national guidelines. This being said, there are no imminent plans to postpone any current events.”

As an event organizer myself, I can tell you that there’s nothing more terrifying than a threat, be it health or otherwise. Peoples’ livelihoods depend on this event, and I promise there is fear and frustration at the SXSW corporate offices. I still think there is a chance the event will be pared back, but at this point, it doesn’t look like a cancellation is likely.

What will be different this year (besides fear and the fact that coronavirus will be part of every single in-person discussion), is that for the first time since it’s inception, the festival will likely be absent of locals which typically accounts for a huge portion of attendance and which populates their massive army of volunteers.

I personally spoke with nearly 100 people to gauge sentiment in Austin regarding SXSW, and unanimously, folks were surprised it wasn’t cancelled, and indicated they had changed their plans to attend, noting that they would be avoiding downtown for the duration of the conference. Unanimously.

There are a lot of jokes online about SXSW being the reason Austin will be host to a major wave of coronavirus after the conference, and that feeling is no surprise…

If you’ve shopped in the past week in Austin, you know that it is very hard to find hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and even less common items like deep freezers, and ammo.

Locals are not taking any risks. And that includes attending SXSW.

Therefore, this begs the question – will locals excluding themselves cripple SXSW’s earning capacity? Fears may be overblown, I grant you that, especially given that no communal cases have hit the Austin area, but people are opting out because they’d rather live than hear a surprise concert from a famous rapper, learn about cool robots, or watch a screening of an indie film.

It is my personal opinion that SXSW is literally the best conference on the planet. We’ve been involved for over a decade. And the organizers are in an impossible situation. Truly.

But with so many unknowns about the coronavirus, shoving thousands of people into close proximity is running more and more people off, be they speakers, performers, attendees, or just about everyone that lives in Austin. It’s time for SXSW organizers to make the painful call to cancel. Or at least postpone for the fall.

But they won’t.

Here are some recent reactions from the ol’ internets:

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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