The friendly faces and smell of BBQ was everywhere. Thousands of eager people exploring the #SXSW2014 event with a hunger for information as well as the delicious food and social atmosphere. Some of them had been there for the first time, just like me. This is a first-person interpretation of the Interactive SXSW experience in Austin, Texas. I am sure everyone’s experience is a little different but the basics are the same.
I had tried to get a better understanding about what SXSW was all about before I even ventured from the cold in New York City out to sunny (and sometimes rainy), Texas. I understood that there would be a lot of speakers and sessions on the current and future state of digital technology in our world. Yet, it seemed like a mystical, nebulous world of a few conference halls and empty seats in my mind because I knew whatever I had imagined would be nothing like the real experience. I was absolutely correct.
Once you have you have claimed your badge (like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s “Golden Ticket”) the interactive SXSW world is magically opened for you. You therein have access to the greatest minds and presentations available. The delivery of the most interesting content on space, education, health and sustainability was by far and away my favorite aspect of the conference. The need and desire to discuss all of the latest information via social media channels provided a highly collaborative and connected source for all attendees. Suddenly you find yourself naturally conversing in 140 characters more than you ever have before. Of course, don’t forget the trending hashtag.
The experience can feel like information overload. You can’t possibly keep track of every critical moment and detail, even if you are the most scrupulous note-taker. I have heard there will be archives of the events and I cannot wait to watch some of my favorite talks as well as some of the ones I missed. Unfortunately, there does tend to be a lot of schedule conflicts. Only so many hours and so many days of incredible talent and you have to make the choice. It felt like the ultimate opportunity cost of learning.
I rarely heard a cellphone from the hundreds to thousands in their seats (depending on the location of the presentation); but you could see each person engaging with their phones, tables, ipads and laptops to capture every moment and speech. Presentations ranged from focusing on the Cosmos with a discussion from Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson to learning a little more about the current YouTube stars to embracing how to be your best version of yourself through quick-learning via authors Tim Ferris and Benny Lewis.
Ultimately the primary takeaway of the entire experience is fundamentally provided from the sense of excitement erupting from all of the SXSW tourists. The feeling was almost tangible and you could only hope and believe that individuals attending this conference would truly make a difference. Walking through the exhibit hall and meeting with companies new and old to discover the latest and greatest in digital offerings provided that sense of positivity. Some of us were going to walk away with the courage and motivation to make a change in the world around us.