SXSW: 10 ideas from the leading lights in the Lone Star state
South by Southwest draws the world’s brightest minds to Texas every year for a festival of ideas and culture: here’s what we’ve learned so far
There are many reasons why 45,000 people turn up at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas every year. Over the course of 10 days, you can feed your head with as many of the 5,000 official events – and countless unofficial events – as you can handle. You could conceivably spend every waking moment at talks, interviews, panels, discussions, showcases, screenings, live performances and workshops, as well as doing a little networking when you’re queuing for tacos or coffee.
While the festival has three designated stands, there’s a lot of crossover between the interactive, film and music programming on offer. It’s the encounters and experiences in this Venn diagram that increasingly make SXSW a go-to event for everyone from a space-travel entrepreneur such as Elon Musk to ex-US vice-president Al Gore. This coming together of bright folks with smart ideas is one of SXSW’s biggest selling points.
Another, of course, is that SXSW Interactive is where now ubiquitous services such as Twitter and Foursquare initially made an appearance. The more successful those services became, the more SXSW was associated with social media in the eyes of many. Indeed, you couldn’t move at SXSW in the last few years for nascent social-media products vying for attention.
It’s telling that this isn’t the case this year, and other activities and memes are taking prominence. Here, then, are 10 ideas, highlights and trends from the first couple of days at SXSW 2013. And no, we didn’t download any new apps.
1 The makers Again and again, you caught a sense that physical products rather than digital were dominating the narrative. There were dozens of panels and talks on the maker movement or new gadgets and gizmos, while there was a big emphasis on the tools that will take this movement to the next level, such as 3D printers. Some panels, such as Embracing Analog, also looked at the emotional connection people place on physical objects, such as vinyl records, as opposed to their digital equivalent. Does anyone really love their MP3s?
2Downloaded The rise and fall of Napster is something that has had a huge effect on the tech and music folk who attend SXSW. It was apt, then, that Alex Winter ’s documentary on the people who crashed the music-industry party over a decade ago was premiered here. From Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker ’s initial revolution in how people could access music to the declaration of war by the recording industry, Downloaded has a fascinating story to tell and a colourful cast to tell it. Meanwhile, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich still doesn’t come out of the story well.
3 Elon Musk The South African-born entrepreneur (and the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man ) has packed a lot into his life to date and there were huge queues for his keynote interview with Chris Anderson. The Paypal originator talked openly and enthusiastically about his work with SpaceX rockets, Tesla cars and SolarCity’s solar-power plans. It was an intriguing, engrossing, inspiring chat, with Musk portraying a nonchalant, laidback attitude to all of this cutting-edge work.
4 Data Data would feature very heavily in any SXSW word-cloud from the last week. Be it from how journalists should partner with geeks to make the most of data, to how established industries such as the music business are not tapping the potential in the data they already produce, data management and mining had a bit of a moment at SXSW.