TechEd is Microsoft’s annual developer conference, and TechEd Australia 2013 kicks off this coming Tuesday 3 September. ZDNet Australia had commissioned me to cover it, from a room much like the one pictured — just like I did last year — but now it’s all off. Because Microsoft has banned me.
On 1 August, I emailed ZDNet Australia editor Chris Duckett to accept his commission. But on 6 August, he phoned me, pissing himself laughing, to say that the message from Microsoft — I don’t know from who or how it was delivered — was a no-go. I’m banned from TechEd for “being aggressive to speakers”.
Now I, too, was pissing myself laughing. I was nearly in tears!
“Aggressive to speakers”? Let’s be clear. Any problems were about one speaker, singular. And this alleged aggression — which I’d characterise more as ridicule, mockery and outrageously hyperbolic violent imagery, as is my well-worn shtick — happened solely via Twitter.
Now I’ve thought long and hard about whether to tell this story. Personally, I don’t really care. I’m happy to avoid spending most of next week in that hell-hole called the Gold Coast, and I’ve got plenty of other things to get on with. And Microsoft does have the right to decide who they will and won’t allow into their event — especially when they’re paying.
But I’ve decided to go public because I’m a big fan of transparency — as reflected in my blog posts from 2007, Releasing the Black Hawk crash video was A Good Thing, Scaring the shit out of clients and Being Real: more notes on radical transparency.
I think you should know about this ban, because it potentially affects the quality of my coverage and analysis of Microsoft as it faces some interesting challenges — more about that another time. I’d like you to be informed consumers of my work, which is why I list all the corporate largesse I receive in my Weekly Wrap posts.
I was also under the impression that any problems which may have arisen were all sorted out at the time. Certainly no-one at Microsoft has ever mentioned any problem to me since then.
Quite frankly, to bad-mouth me to one of my commissioning editors — in an undocumented phone call, no less! — strikes me as a tad defamatory.
And without any communication with me? From an organisation that wants customers to trust it with our most intimate and confidential data? Does this not represent a glaring absence of due process?
So, in the tradition of another 2007 post, “Let’s just write that down…”, I’m just going to write it all down, and put my name to it. That’s what honest people do, right?
Come with me, boys and girls, as I tell you about TechEd Australia 2012’s keynote speaker, Jason Silva, “futurist, filmmaker, epiphany addict [WTF?], ecstatic truth lover [WTFF?], techno optimist”. Check his Wikipedia entry and personal website.
The TechEd Australia 2012 keynotes
Within minutes of Silva starting his frenetic presentation, I concluded that he was an arsehat. My subsequent Twitter stream was relentless. If you want the full picture, I’ve posted all my tweets from the TechEd keynotes, plus a CSV file of all my tweets from the entire month, September 2012.
But if you want to cut to the chase, here’s what I think are my five most contentious tweets, the probable cause of any difficulties.
- This Jason Silva guy? I’m afraid that I already want to punch him in the face very, very hard. #auteched
- Yeah maybe cut back on the amphetamines, Jason. #auteched
- Sorry, folks, but being CONTINUALLY AMAZED BY ALL THE THINGS is not insightful or wisdom, it’s a mental illness. #auteched
- The feeling that I am feeling right this very moment is the reason why you should not hand me a gun today. #auteched
- NO DO NOT APPLAUD HIM HE IS A CHARLATAN. #auteched
All of those comments were on-record then, and I’m perfectly happy to put them on-record again now.
To give you a taste of Silva’s presentation style, here’s his video To Understand is to Perceive Patterns.
I’ve never met Silva face to face, or even spoken with him that I recall. I had, and still have, zero interest in doing so.
I did see him a couple weeks later, though, at the opening night party of the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas — we were both on the program — but it was at a distance. He was holding court with a group of fans who gobbled up his disjointed crap. I left them to it.
But the morning after the TechEd keynotes…
The following morning, immediately before a scheduled press briefing, a Microsoft staffer pulled me aside for a little chat. I wish I’d taken notes, or perhaps even recorded the conversation, but I didn’t. My bad. So this is just my memory.
Concerns had been raised, he said, about my tweets. I think the word “tone” was used. He didn’t say who had raised these concerns, and I don’t think he ever gave a concrete description of these concerns. I remember being confused.
Surely there was no suggestion that Microsoft wanted to exert some sort of control over what I said on Twitter? Oh no, of course not, he reassured me. Well good. But I’m still a bit confused, I said. I’m not quite sure what you want to happen next.
“We just wanted you to be aware that these concerns have been raised,” he said.
“Oh, well thank you for telling me then,” I said, and there the conversation ended.
That night, he and I spoke over beers, as is the fashion at these corporate events, and that’s where I assumed the matter had ended.
Reflections on those tweets
Yes, “punch him in the face very, very hard” and “you should not hand me a gun today” are violent references. Der. But they’re also statements about my state of mind, not threats. Nor are they inciting others to acts of violence.
Even the most cursory glance through my Twitterstream over the last six years would soon reveal to any intelligent, language-aware reader that this is all, as I said, part of my shtick. I used the word “punch” ten times that month, for instance, although one of them was about “punch cards”.
“If someone starts talking to you like a pirate, it means that they want you to punch them in the face,” was one real example.
Stabbing was popular too, in tweets such as: “Phrases that should be grounds for stabbing PR folks: ‘accelerate your path to X.’ Only morons actually speak like this.”
Heck, I regularly call for people to punched, stabbed, shot, drowned, impaled on spikes, disembowelled in front of their own children or otherwise mistreated. I do believe that on more than one occasion I’ve called for George Street, Sydney, to be doused in nerve gas. And only last night I noted that genocide has a bad rep, sure, but you shouldn’t let that “history” cloud your judgement.
Just how thick would you have to be to take any of that seriously?
My TechEd Australia 2012 coverage
I produced two articles and a podcast:
- Microsoft kills the little guys at ‘cloud scale’, ZDNet Australia, 14 September 2012, in which I introduce the concept of “to cliché” as a verb.
- Windows 8 interface’s design heritage, ZDNet Australia, 14 September 2012.
- Patch Monday podcast episode 155, “Windows 8: Rectangles for all the things explained”. A chat about the interface formerly known as Metro with user experience designer Shane Morris from Automatic Studio and developer Nick Randolph from Built to Roam.
I also made the following observation in that week’s Weekly Wrap:
Microsoft’s event, like all major vendor conferences, began with an intense burst of frustration thanks to the inevitable series of overly-long overly-staged buzzword-saturated propaganda events — “keynotes”, the industry has decided to call them — designed to hammer the new technology’s marketecture into your head while preventing the opportunity for critical thinking.
And, like nearly all others, it eventually settled down into something sensible once all the vice-presidents and managing directors and pointlessly-animated PowerPoint presentations and bass-heavy music had been stage-managed out of the room and actual engineers and designers and other geeks started talking through specific details.
Again, regular readers will know that my frustration with these bullshit rituals is a long-running thread in my writing. I’ve always thought that intelligent, well-educated communications professionals would notice when they’re parroting meaningless buzzwords. I thought that understanding and writing for your audience, rather than dribbling out a few clichés, was the very basis of the craft?
But I digress…
So what happens now?
For my part, now that I’ve disclosed Microsoft’s ban, and told you that I think it’s hilarious, we can all take that on board when interpreting my work. It’s not like I’m going to stop writing about Microsoft or doing my best to present factual reportage, fair analysis and my genuinely-held opinion.
As for Microsoft, well, I think if there’s a problem then they need to talk to me about it, and maybe we can figure something out. That’s Conflict Resolution 101. It’d also be kinda nice if it were expressed in concrete terms, not mealy-mouthed passive-voiced evasiveness.
But, Dear Microsoft, if we’re talking about allegations of conduct that you reckon prevents me from attending your events and doing my job, well, that’ll have to come to me in writing, on letterhead, and with a specific individual’s name and signature at the bottom. And if you can’t do that, then surely the only logical alternative remaining is to provide me with a written apology?
After all, it’s not like your PR teams, both internal and external, don’t already know my style. It’s not like they don’t already know that when I’m presented with a dose of bullshit as concentrated as Mr Silva’s that I’ll let rip. And it’s not like they don’t already know that while I may slam Microsoft when it gets things wrong, I also give the company due credit when it does good things.
For bonus points, Microsoft, you might like to have someone tell me what’s really going down here, because to be honest this smells to me like some mongrel species of bullshit corporate politics and scapegoating. If the problem is really something else, and my tweets during Silva’s keynote are just a cover, then I’m happy to have an initially off-record conversation to help clear the air.
For triple bonus points, send me Jason Silva’s head on a spike.
[Photo: The media work room at Microsoft TechEd Australia 2012.]