The Edge (or more specifically, me) went to South by South West (SXSW) Interactive this year. Held annually in Austin, Texas, it is the premier innovation in digital culture gig and a chance for tens of thousands to talk about their practises.
If TED is the beauty pageant of ideas (not my words, they’re someone else’s), then SXSW Interactive is the pub that locals flock to on a Friday night to hear the bands play; if the bands were Dr Neil Degrasse Tyson, the developers from Half Brick and Adam Savage from Mythbusters. In short, it is awesome, and that is where the gloating ends and the conversation begins, because SXSW is just that – at least it was for me – a conversation.
You’re in a city that knows how to make people feel welcome, a city full of people from all round the world there for the same reason you are and wanting, desperately, to talk about it. Between talks people talk, exchange business cards and steal each others’ ideas. Steal, that is, in the nicest possible way, acknowledging where the stealing occurred when anyone asks and back linking to the source material. You could call it sharing I guess, but that is nowhere near as romantic a construct as stealing; a bit like Robin Hood circa Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves and not Russell Crowe in that other one directed by Ridley Scott, which I liked but it was not romantic at all…
SXSW was all about conversation and interrogating, exploring ideas and challenging the preconceptions I brought with me. For every joyous moment of validation – Adam Savage exploring art and science as the corner stone of culture conversation – there were moments of deep concern – Joi Ito’s statement about mankind’s capacity to generate extinction level events – and frightening potentiality – 23andMe‘s extensive bank of sequenced human DNA. Gathered together they left my head wanting to explode and a lingering aftertaste in my mouth.
I’ll get to that taste in one more paragraph.
I listened to librarians from Stamford talk about providing entrepreneurs a place to gather, teachers from across the world wanting makerspaces in their communities and some of science’s greatest minds urging the world to find a way to make learning accessible, relevant. It is hard sometimes in Australia to appreciate that what you are doing is innovative, at times groundbreaking and at the very least, mostly fascinating. It is very easy to look at the internet and see how shiny the rest of the world looks through the lens of their beautifully resolved communications strategies.
It is easy to forget that this is their showreel, their lives without the ums and ahs breaking up the conversation. Talking with colleagues in the same sector from round the world, you come to the realisation that we’re doing just as good a job as everyone else is. That lingering taste in my mouth was the taste of potential success.
It tastes like sherbet.
More to come about SXSW to come.