Writing a summary of what I experienced at SXSW, or ‘South-By’ as the cool kids call it, is difficult because of the enormity of what I tried to absorb over the five days of this wonderful interactive festival. Seriously, between the seminars, workshops, displays, trade shows, demos and chili tacos… your senses go into deep hyperdrive. And that’s just the activities that took place before sunset! But I figure now is as good a time as any to write my wrap-up of this truly incredible experience before the memories are dulled by my imminent sleeping pill sedation for the 14 hour flight home. So, as the click-bait headline above suggests, there are two contrasting feelings that SXSW has tattooed onto my brain. These are a strong sense of inspiration and intimidation, not served in equal measure.
Inspiration came in many forms:
1. Truly bright minds
I saw people who have embraced the digital revolution and redefined what it means to be a brand, a marketer, an entertainer, an innovator or an entrepreneur. I heard from all kinds of people who shared their incredible knowledge, passion, successes, failures and predictions, day after day. From 24 year-old genius Brian Wong, Founder and CEO of Kiip (look him up), through to 60-something Robert Malcolm who spent over 25 years with P&G and is now at Ninja Master level when it comes to understanding brands in the digital age. And don’t even start me on Kevin Plank, Founder of health super brand Under Armour, or some Keynote Speaker called Obama that ignited the gathered masses.
2. New technologies
From ground-breaking VR experiences that had people shouting and laughing like they were in the real world, to facial recognition technology that can map your emotions like a sci-fi film, to simple consumer products like a pram that has a camera mounted at the front-facing baby so mum can watch her little one’s reactions on a top-mounted screen. I saw some truly incredible and inspirational things that got my mind racing like never before.
3. Cool nerds
Seriously, the nerds aren’t going to take this planet. They’ve already taken it! And good on them. It was fantastic to see displays such as NASA who were working wonders with primary school age children showing them how engineering can be cool. Elsewhere I saw 20-25 year-olds introduced as CEOs, Heads of Technology, editors of major publications, internet pioneers and experts in their fields. It’s revenge of the nerds on a massive scale.
4. Sexy stats
OK, I really do love a good stat and I assure you that in those hallowed conference rooms inspired figures were coming thick and fast! Stats like 98% of purchases involve convincing someone to replace something they are currently buying or using. Stats like Lazer Team is now the highest crowd funded original YouTube film of all time – raising $2.48 million. And stats like Under Armour has enjoyed 23 consecutive quarters of growth over 20%, and is on track to turn over almost $7 billion annually by 2018! Seriously, I love this stuff.
5. Ground Zero
When you’re at SXSW, you can’t help but feel that for those few days, no matter where you’ve travelled from, you have landed at the epicentre of what’s coming next on our planet. You know that as you move your way through the crowds and queues in Austin, you’re right at the cutting edge of digital mankind. You know that if it’s worth knowing about, it’s on display somewhere nearby. And if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
So, I mentioned that what I’ve taken from SXSW is a combination of inspiration and intimidation, two obviously conflicting terms. If I had to put figures on it, I’d say I experienced 80% inspiration and 20% intimidation. So, what do I mean by intimidation? Well, it’s pretty simple really. The stuff you see at SXSW is a bit scary. Realising just how smart the top-tier thought-leaders of today are is a bit scary. Seeing robots that can read your emotions in a split-second is a bit scary. Knowing the nerd apocalypse is now upon us (and I’m not really one of them) is a bit scary. Some of the statistics I heard were impressive, but a bit scary. And finally, knowing I was only in the world’s digital epicentre for a short and precious time, is a bit scary. But am I glad I went? You bet!
Seriously, everyone should go to SXSW Interactive at least once in their lifetime. Probably once every two years actually, given the rate of change in this interactive age! You should so do it. You will be inspired and you’ll probably be a little intimidated, like me. Now it’s time to find those sleeping pills. Over and out.
Nick Ikonomou is a Senior Creative at BCM