I’ve noticed a lot of blogs and articles and general gripes lately about why SXSW Interactive has jumped the shark. It’s fashionable to post emphatically about how there’s no appeal to the massive conference tackling digital and interactive trends each March.
This was my sixth visit to SXSW. It has changed dramatically in those six years.
There are fewer opportunities to discover new speakers through wandering into sessions. (The lines are too long and the sessions are often too crowded.) There are disappointing speakers who clearly don’t prepare. There are corporate sponsors like Miller Lite and McDonald’s taking over from independent brands with unique offerings.
So, yes, there are things to complain about. But…
It is not dead. SXSW is one of the few places where so much converges at once there are still discoveries to be made. Every year, around the third day of staying up too late and walking for miles, I declare, in no uncertain terms, that this is it. I won’t be returning next year. I’m too old for this nonsense. But then I sign up the minute I can. Here’s why.
1. We are tied up in our own worlds 99% of the time.
This forces me to step out into the 1%. We read blogs, follow influencers, attend networking events, yes. But there is a lot to be said for actually stepping into a virtual living room of sorts.
The technology offered at SXSW, whether in the form of using the Oculus at the Exhibit Hall or getting a brain hack at a party, forces me to think about the future in different ways. How will we use this technology to better our experiences? What are the challenges with it?
2. The questions are worth it.
The sessions I attended led to many, many questions without answers. Discussions about privacy and opting in and permission-based personalization dominated.
What we do today is simply too immature to really be as nuanced as we know it needs to be. But we don’t know how to do it yet. That’s ok. The questions will lead to better answers.
3. Understanding other worlds leads to better understanding of our own.
There were some fascinating discussions about healthcare and education. 3D printing could lead to creating healthy organs for those who need them. Educating women around the world thanks to technology could empower entire communities.
These are things that help me think about the endless possibilities of innovation and experience.
4. People are amazing.
The mix of people at SXSW is unlike any other conference you can attend.
Innovators who create amazing technology sometimes can’t hold a conversation with another human. The guy at the party who tells you he’s “in between jobs” is sometimes the most amazing person you’ll meet.
Yes, there is a heavy contigent of hipsters and people who speak of themselves in the third person, but for the most part there are people doing amazing things. It’s a chance to meet a few of them, which I always appreciate.
5. Friends are the bomb.
I’m lucky enough to know many people from around the globe who communicate regularly via online channels. It’s wonderful to see updates and tweets, but it’s so much better to share a hug and a conversation.
I’m so damn proud of these friends who are contributing in bigger ways and making a difference in the world. I’m grateful every year to spend just a little time with them in person.
SXSW is not dead, and it’s not perfect. But I’ll see you next year!