Generative AI is making us hanker for human interaction

Ragan and PR Daily’s CEO reflects on lessons learned from SXSW.

Ragan CEO Diane Schwartz reflects on SXSW 2024.

Despite its name, South by Southwest is not easy to navigate. But getting lost in the thousands of sessions, meetups, exhibits and concerts in Austin, Texas every March is much of its appeal. As I explored this year’s festival, I found myself at the intersection of Contradiction and Promise.

Within the first few hours, I attended keynotes and panel discussions stuffed with paradoxes: AI is good; AI is bad; opportunity awaits you; the end is coming. If you’re a lifelong learner with an open mind, this type of discourse is like a bee to honey.

One session focused on interpersonal communication, social atrophy and the need for humans to be more civil. That’s a lot to take in, but workplace expert Amy Gallo reminded us of the multiplier effect that one good deed produces. Considering the political discourse in the U.S. this election year, her tips on how to work with difficult people seemed reasonable and achievable for attendees. (During tough conversations, she advised, “Always grant someone their premise.”)

Not too far down the hallway was a keynote about “Billion Dollar Teams” fueled by generative AI. Ian Beacraft, founder and chief futurist of Signal and Cipher, spoke optimistically about the pervasiveness of AI and a future where one person can run a billion-dollar company, thanks to AI. In a nod to Publicis Chief Growth Officer Rishad Tobaccowala, he reiterated that “The future does not fit in the containers of the past.”

People who need people

Beacraft shared future-of-work scenarios, such as the manager-employee meeting in which the manager is in AI form. In this possibly far-fetched scenario, your boss won’t need to show up for your check-in because their AI version will suffice. This technology may be coming to an office near you. How this impacts manager communications is something we might want to bake into the 2025 strategic comms plan.

Bleeding-edge technology like generative AI means fewer paper cuts and more time for strategic and satisfying work. The average employee spends 32 days a year searching for documents or information, said Beacraft. With AI, that time will be whittled down to hours. What will they be doing with that extra time, assuming they still have a job? Beacraft’s assertion was they’ll forge better social connections, and teams will be more efficient. “The small team is the ultimate flex,” he said.



There is undoubtedly a dark side to AI, just as there are with other technologies. Whether you’re a communicator, a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer, future teams will be built with AI and people in mind.  The good news, promised Beacraft, is that people will have more time for other people.

Lastly, I stumbled upon a standing-room-only session led by Noah Kagan, author of the new book “Million Dollar Weekend,” and founder of the wildly successful, entrepreneur-focused software marketplace AppSumo. Kagan extolled the virtues of hard work and grit and the power of that first dollar earned.

The room was full of what Kagan calls “wantrepreneurs” whose business ideas ranged from custom jewelry to a local hiking app. Promise permeated the room. There was no talk of AI, as Kagan focused on time-tested advice such as “Just Ask.”  Successful people seek help from the people around them — family, colleagues and friends.

As we integrate AI into our work lives, we’ll be doing this together, not alone. Just ask for help. We’ll be leaning into one another for insights and ways to make the workplace, our communities and the world more human.

These three SXSW sessions underscore the paradoxical new world we’re stepping into: We want to understand AI, to embrace not fear it. We want social connection — we know we need that to be whole. And we shouldn’t stop dreaming, even if we can’t stand up a million-dollar business in a weekend.

Diane Schwartz is CEO of Ragan Communications. 


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