George Takei takes tech, social media to SXSW

Steve Winter, special to

AUSTIN, Texas — With sessions dedicated to such topics as online gaming, the app economy and hacking, hustling and coding, one might assume the Interactive session of South by Southwest was created entirely for Millennials and Generation Z, and that social media is the exclusive domain of the young.

Oh, myyyy, that would be wrong to assume.

Consider George Takei and his partnership with AARP.

One of the most popular branding and marketing events at SXSW this year was #SelfieswithGeorge, with several hundred participants lining up at a local Austin venue called 219 West, to take a smartphone photo with the man who became known for his role of Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek.

With a major presence at SXSW, AARP is attempting to erase presuppositions that the festival is only for young people.

“AARP is all about breaking down those barriers and showing that age is just a number,” says spokesperson Michelle Alvarez.

“Fifty isn’t what it used to be and that’s where our audience starts, 50 and up,” says Alvarez. “We’re also talking to people younger than that and showing how AARP can be relevant to them now, before they even hit that mark.”

“Communicating to them about emerging technologies is a very important part of that message,” says Alvarez.

Social media and tech: The next frontiers

“Everybody should be a participant in this,” says George Takei, the 77-year-old actor, writer, and social justice champion who played the role of Lt. Sulu when Star Trek debuted in 1966.

“AARP has allowed me to participate in delivering the message that technology is important,” says Takei.

Takei is embracing the chance to communicate with current and future seniors.

“AARP allows me to reach that great, large, huge diverse demographic via the Internet,” says Takei.

Openly outspoken on such topics as politics, racism and his role within the LGBT community, Takei has firmly established himself as a leader in the social media world through his intelligence, wit and savvy participation in the digital world.

Takei has amassed a devoted following across multiple media platforms with 6.1 million Facebook likes and more than a million Twitter followers.

“And it’s not just Star Trek fans, either,” says Takei. “While it might begin with fans of the original Star Trek series – all of whom are pretty much my contemporaries now – those fans obviously taught their children right.”

“Now their children and even their grandchildren are fans,” jokes Takei.

Takei credits a series of appearances on the Howard Stern Radio show in the early 1990s for helping re-energize his public career.

“I think Howard helped to open the door for another phase of my career, and then with the social media that’s been the next phase,” says Takei.

Along the way, he has written two books, produced a documentary, written a stage show and continues to serves as a spokesperson for various companies and causes.

Takei’s Take taking hold

Last year, Takei expanded his social media footprint even further when he teamed with AARP to launch Takei’s Take, an original YouTube series that takes a smart, funny and irreverent look at our world’s shared digital experience, targeted primarily to viewers over 50.

“We talk about, show and introduce technology and what’s trending in technology,” Takei says.

“For example, Google Glass or the various kinds of services that might be available to you. You learn how you can rent out that spare room in your house or that spare space in your car,” says Takei.

For a graying society, being connected — to the Internet of Things, as well as other people — is becoming more and more important.

“As we all know, technology is wonderful because it introduces us to this vast, fascinating, eclectic world out there — everybody should be a participant in this,” says Takei.

On the heels of its first season which netted 24,000 subscribers in the first 24 hours of its launch and 1.5 million video views to date, AARP began production on the show’s second season in Austin during SXSW.

Between episodes, the actor took time to participate in an hour-long one-on-one conversation before a packed house followed by a photo, book-signing and autograph session for his fans.

So with everything else he has on his plate, what’s next for George Takei?

“I’ve done a lot of theater in Los Angeles and Great Britain and I created a musical entitled Allegiance, which is essentially about my childhood growing up in internment camps during World War II,” says Takei.

“So, it looks like I’m boldly going where I’ve never been before — Broadway.”

Oh, Myyyy!!

George Takei speaks with Steve Winter, reporting for WTOP.

Video by Kenny Fried

Editors Note: Longtime trade show attendees Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are contributing reports from SXSW. In their day jobs, they are public relations professionals with Sage Communications. During SXSW they will not be reporting on any of their clients’ products or those of direct competitors.

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