The Compost of the Mind

SXSW Interactive: Day One

Endless lines of people that wrap around the building, cyber geeks of every shape and form, and 30-pound bags full of marketing trash – the madness has begun.

I jump-started this year but hitting events back to back, wasting no time waiting in the halls, verbalizing my résumé to strangers or punching random buttons on my cell phone like I have someone important to call. The first event I attended was at 3pm, Book Reading: The Principles of Beautiful Web Design with Jason Beaird. I expected to pick up some new-age technology tips of designing our online commercialism, but it was nothing of the sort.

Beaird instead decided to focus on the basics: the foundation of Web design. Subjects as rudimentary as the color wheel and why serifs are great fonts were lathered on thick in Beaird's power point presentation. It was like viewing one of those training videos that they make newly hired employees of H.E.B. or Walgreen's watch - safety precautions, customer service and all of the information that goes along being a worker bee that you already knew.

After straining to see Beaird from the very back of a packed room, I was fortunate enough to randomly pick Career Rev 342: Dabble Dabble, Toil and Kick Ass with Amy Hoy and John Athayde. This was a good one. John and Amy are co-founders of their company, Hyphenated People, which apparently, do a little bit of everything. That was also the topic of their presentation; why excel at one thing when you can be reasonably good at a number of skills? The well-versed couple made quirky jokes, quoted knowledgeable sources like Lloyd Alexander, Robert Lynd, Freeman Dyson and many others. Their approach to the human mind, which made me grin, was that the brain is like a big heap of compost. It's made of all kinds junk haphazardly thrown together, which makes a rich, life-nurturing substance that grows plants, or in the discussion's case, ideas. Their theory was that when the brain only has one kind of skill, say science, math or musicianship, then it can't grow productive ideas as well as the balanced mind can. It was basically a panel on how to fertilize your brain.

They also discussed the idea that being content with your own knowledge makes one ignorant.

"When you know nothing there are lots of possibilities," said Hoy. "When you have an empty mind you will be open to a lot more concepts."

Hoy and Athayde purged further into the theory that empty minds have no walls, and if you don't know the rules you won't be constrained by them. Neuro-plasticity - "One of the greatest joys known to man is to take flight into ignorance in the search of knowledge," was the Robert Lynd quote that they used.

They were a cute, intelligent couple, with John constantly rubbing his hands in front of his face in a nervous manner, and Amy constantly flipping her hand across her streak of green hair. I left that panel with a portly-feeling brain, and after a few more panels, I walked home, letting my overfed mind burp and fart along the way.

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