Sendai Calling: Social Media in Real Life


The day the Sendai earthquake hit Japan, Cameron Sinclair was up until 3 a.m. Sinclair is the CEO (chief eternal optimist) of Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit architectural design firm that has built more than 1,000 structures around the world—schools, hospitals, housing, etc.—in response to humanitarian crises.

After learning of the events in Japan, Sinclair called his chapter there to formulate a plan. “They were already on it,” he said. “Architects and planners were already on the ground.”

Sinclair, who founded AFH in 1999 at the age of 22 and maintains a youthful yet grounded enthusiasm, was in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest interactive technology festival, an event that largely consists of “drinking beer and competing for VC [venture capital] bucks and zillion-dollar valuations,” as one CNN editor put it. But Sinclair had higher ambitions for the role of social media.

“Everybody has talked about social media as a place where you can talk,” he told Adweek. “I’m interested in social media as a place where you can do."

Much of this year’s SXSW festival has focused on social media’s “game mechanics,” which applies to both social (or interactive) videogames as well as the game theory inherent in social media applications that give users “points” or “badges,” honors that very often have no use “in real life”—or “IR,” as some techies put it.

Much to Sinclair’s disappointment, relatively little focus has been given to social media’s ability to solve real-world problems.

“Instead of building fucking virtual farms, build a real farm,” Sinclair said, referring to FarmVille, a popular Sim City-like game made by Zynga. “Zynga’s great, and FarmVille’s perfect, but I would actually like to build farms for people in Africa. And there’s a way that you can do that working virtually.”

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