Austin, Texas – American record producer T Bone Burnett gave a controversial yet intriguing keynote speech at SXSW. Although T Bone Burnett is a Grammy and an Oscar winner and is attributed with renewing public interest in American Roots music, his keynote did not solely focus on music. Instead, he spoke about a few topics that all intertwined with each other, including privacy, modern day monopolies, art, the internet, and more. Since SXSW is a place for innovation and a glance at what could soon become our future, audiences expected Burnett’s keynote to be optimistic. However, they were shocked to find that his speech was not at all optimistic, rather almost a warning of what is to come in our future if we continue they way we are operating as of now with regards to the internet, privacy, monopolies, information, and the neglect of art.
One of the most interesting sections of his almost fifty minute long keynote was the topic of the arts, and how without them, in his opinion, we as a species cease to be human. Burnett explains that the arts are a way to channel our humanity and conscious, and is worth more than information because of it. It is the arts that contain, represent, and allow our humanity to thrive in a world dominated by an “anti-human” entity known as the internet. Burnett explains that the world is so focused on efficiency, the sciences, and just about everything but the arts, that we have lost a massive part of what makes us human, and the generations of people who had to grow up in a world where the arts were not praised or punished as much through education have become stagnant and unable to reach their full potential due to part of their humanity not being able to properly blossom and be refined.
Burnett also focused heavily on privacy, which he repeatedly stated was pretty much extinct at this point in time. Huge monopolies like Google and Facebook are taking our information without our knowing, and using that information to stay on top. This information that they take is also being used as propaganda, according to Burnett, and that it is being used to sway our opinions and in a way control the what we think, act, and make decisions. For example, Burnett used the 2016 election as an illustration as to how exactly these privacy breaches and information systems can lead to detrimental consequences.
Although Burnett’s keynote speech was controversial and quite out of place at SXSW, it was eloquently recited and was incredibly intelligent and thought provoking in nature. The speech pushed the audience to think outside the box and question things that aren’t normally questioned for the sake of our humanity, and above all he pushed for the preservation of what is the most human asset that we can produce: the arts.