NOTE: it's been a month since SXSWi happened. I almost didn't publish this post. It felt "too late" - and then I thought about it. Is one month later really too late? In the world we live in it feels like it is, but then I also believe the reflection, time to digest and think, and to form opinions I still believe in, gave me time to write a better post. So, I clicked on "publish" and sent it through the interwebs. You may not agree with the timing. This may feel like old news to you - or you may just think it's a bad post. Again, you might love it. Let me know in the comments. Either way, I'm glad I took some time to think. And I'm looking forward to sharing with you my impressions of the content presented at SXSW. "How was South by Southwest?! Who did you SEE? Was it crazy? I was following it on Twitter and it looked cray-zee. There were so many parties!"
For many of us who make the pilgrimage to Austin, these are the questions we're met with when we get back. Our friends, colleagues, and family members (under the age of 30) want to know all about the celebrities, the swag and the parties. I mean, SXSW is all parties, isn't it? Just look at the media coverage, read the tweets - it's all bar check-ins and mechanical bulls (ahem). There's a SXSW stereotype - people who've never been buy into the media-hype off all film previews, girls gone wild antics all the time, and those who've gone seem to only remember the media-hype, girls gone wild antics - even long after the photographs have been destroyed and social media timelines sanitized.
Here's the thing: on any given hour, during most days of SXSWi 2012, there were 60+/- sessions happening simultaneously - SIXTY. That is a lot of content. And, guess what - some of it was frigging amazing. Yes, there was content presented at SXSW. People keynoted, sat for "fireside chats" (sans fire, cause *that* would be dangerous. seriously), and paneled; they expounded, preached, pontificated, and exchanged philosophies - you get the idea. Yet, SXSW has gone from revered to reviled, with tips on how to block those annoying SXSW tweets from your Twitter feed, the content and purpose lost in a haze of beer-fueled tweets and legions of Foursquare updates.
Manners, Please My mom always taught us, it's not what you say but how you say it. Typing that out loud for the first time, I'm not sure I completely agree. Yeah, okay, I get the point - how one delivers a message is as important as the content of the message - shouting sentiments of peace to a pacifist is not likely to go over well. I like to think that what is said, the content, matters as well though. Of course it does. And some amazing content was delivered at SXSWi:
Tim O'Reilly's fireside chat (sans fire), with Andrew Mcafee (MIT): in the fastest 60 minutes of the week, "human rolodex" O'Reilly pontificated on the parallels to the downfall of banking to the technology, maintaining value in society, the need for more people who want to make a difference, and - ultimately - creating more value than you capture. Wow.
"Banking went from a value creating industry to a value destroying industry...and this fits a pattern I've seen in technology. To maintain success you need to create more value than you capture, or you will have ultimate ecosystem failure." - Tim O'Reilly
Billy Corgan: the No More (Music) Business as Usual interview w/Brian Solis. first of all, if you've ever seen Corgan live, you know he's a huge emmer effer. Gargantuan. His size was further accentuated by the diminutive (it's the best adjective I've got) Solis. And he had something to say. In the introduction, Solis set the stage by saying "What's going on is not about age or technology. It's about people. We make information come to us." And with that, Corgan strode onto the stage and thus began an oration from one of the most outspoken artists of our time. Corgan's battle cry was support of the artist, decision making of the public enabled by fixing the broken record label system and the end of artistic prostitution. Heresy that could have easily been spoken in a Euripidean drama were we in ancient Greece and not air-conditioned Austin. Acknowledging that "the artist has the technology and must create his own models" [outside of the record label and YouTube], Corgan also called on fans to step up:
"We have to grow with artists on their path - it's going to be bloody. Fans have to be more sophisticated."- Billy Corgan
And you know what? I can't argue with him. He's fighting for a system. "Today's artists have a vision. They need a system to plug into. What's the system today? Upload a video to YouTube and compete with a fucking cat playing a piano? Get 1,000,000 views and not get paid for them? The music industry used to be about F-you. Now it's a different kind of F-you with social media." Heretic. And eye-opening. And not unlike the battle cry of patients, doctors and payors for a healthcare system. Be clear on this, people - patients, doctors, Corgan - aren't asking for a system that works, they're asking for a system. Period. (What? You didn't think I'd pass up a chance to make a #healthcare reference did you?).
At one point Corgan stated "I don't hear anyone saying F-you Corgan. I must be saying something right." The speaker took one question. The guy opened with "F-you Corgan!" He was invited onstage to voice his opinion, which he did. Democratic discourse - only in Austin, and once upon a time in Ancient Greece.
There was more. Gore and Parker waxed about the role of social media in politics. Rainn Wilson gave us a peek inside his head (brainstem). Patients and big pharma joined together on the Friending Pharma panel to discuss advancing the healthcare conversation-together. Pinterest's founder explained the app (sorta - he more explained himself but that's a different conversation). Baratunde Thurston used humor to make us think about using social media as a means to read the world.
Content. Glorious content - thought leaders, jokesters, politicians, musicians. All took questions from the crowd. Each stopped to pose for photos in the corridors. A democratic exchange of information. That is the SXSWi experience that drove me to navigate more than 10 campuses and 60 sessions/hour/day to experience the madness, mayhem and, yes, rowdy, drunken, late-night antics on mechanical bulls at SXSW.
Epilogue: Food For Thought When it comes to SXSW, it seems to come down to how much is said. In other words, too much volume can mask a good thing, and highlight the bad.
I went to our old friends at Simply Measured to get the skinny on Tweet volume from SXSW 2012 - and boy was there a lot of it, as you can see from the graphs below.
It's not just the volume, it's the content that we choose to share. Check out this über comprehensive infographic from TNW - it goes in depth on everything, except content, and it's built from our tweets.
In the end, what we discuss grabs the spotlight. In my opinion, it's down to those of us who present, attend, and derive benefit from SXSW to be wiser about the content we share and how we discuss the experience. I hope this is a first step in that direction. Thank you so much for reading.