Another SXSW has come to a close, and boy was this year a doozy. The conference marked its 30th anniversary with a keynote by Barack Obama, an exploration of the increasing role artificial intelligence plays in our everyday lives, how social media is constantly reinventing traditional media and an increasing focus on diversity in the tech field.
And even with that, there was so much more. We encourage you to take a look at all of this year’s coverage, and let us know what you’re excited about, worried about or just plain more curious about in the comments below or on social media.
It’s hard to fully sum up SXSW Interactive 2016, so instead we’ve collected our favorite moments, insightful takeaways, or other little tidbits from our time in the Lone Star state. See you next year, Austin!
Speak out, make progress
There were a lot of stories being told at SXSW, and they were all about a human having an experience, usually with technology. Most brands wanted to put a human touch to the often cold interface of technology, and for a conference focused on technology and digital achievements, the reminders to consider the user were ubiquitous.
From an app like DriveMode, designed to make it safer and easier to use your phone while driving, to insight on The Atlantic’s strategy for considering the “audience of our audience” who might share an article or hashtag, a focus on the user was everywhere.
— Jill Reddish (@myJillieBean) March 12, 2016
Brands and cities alike were looking for ways to use technology to reduce friction, solve problems and create memorable experiences. Both groups were also looking to offer a tactile, hands-on experience, and the exhibition floor often felt like a World’s Fair. Few pavilions could top Germany with an entire mobile bar giving out glasses of Stella Artois (although these data visualization cookies were pretty sweet), and everybody was buzzing about the seemingly countless ideas coming out of Japan and Korea.
— Jill Reddish (@myJillieBean) March 21, 2016
Anyone working towards a culture change kept repeating the mantra of “communication and collaboration.” Public and city officials looking to solve city challenges with technology kept repeating the advice to start-ups and technology experts to “listen to us, learn to work with us.” The same advice came from agents about fostering a more inclusive culture for the LGBTQ community in the CIA and NSA.
At the same time as SXSW Interactive 2016 offered a gathering place to share support and tactics for thorny issues, questions should be asked if these panelists are really just preaching to the choir, especially regarding women and people of color in technology, as this article about the Online Harassment Summit at SXSW points out. Judging by the applause points during President Obama’s speech and the Elephant in the Valley keynote, a lot of people in those rooms were already on the same page. After seeing the crowds at SXSW, I would echo the call that those of us looking for a more inclusive, equitable tech environment must take action, ask questions and raise our voices to make real progress.
Only in Austin do crickets and tech have something in common
By Raven Kelly Smith
Austin is arguably not terribly far-flung from the world of Seattle. But it was my first time in the Lone Star state, and being a longtime Anthony Bourdain fan has taught me to appreciate exotic foods. Some boast crickets as the future of sustainable eating, and while that future may seem far off, in some Austin food trucks the future is now. After forcing my co-reporter to eat one, I promptly bought us two tacos. They were okay, a weird mix of not-quite-crunchy and chewy. Would I eat them again? Maybe. Probably. But they were all part of the SXSW experience.
But while this was an adventure in food tasting, there were a few other takeaways from the conference that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention. Other than basking in Anthony Bourdain’s presence during his talk on his unique brand of storytelling, Obama also made an appearance.
My Republican family is probably rolling their eyes at my adoration for the man, but his speech was phenomenal. Essentially his goal is to help implement some much needed changes in the U.S. government by “crowd sourcing” the tech talent at SXSW. He asked for help on everything from digitizing veteran benefit applications, to making it easier to submit tax returns, to (somehow) making it more pleasant to interact with the DMV. It was the first time a sitting president has ever attended a SXSW conference, and Obama maintained his image as the “people’s man.” Seeming to care less and less about maintaining his image, he slammed the Texas governor, along with calling the bureaucratic U.S. government “bloated” and “lethargic”.
All in all, from big name speakers to smaller insightful panels, it was a fantastic experience to revel in the future of tech… and crickets.
What a Buddhist monk taught me about sales tactics
It’s no secret SXSW brings together the best marketers from all over the world, and in fact, that’s largely the point. But the best marketing tactics I saw during the conference didn’t come from some self-proclaimed “marketing guru” or “sales ninja.” It came from a Buddhist monk from Colorado.
The scene played out like this: Raven and I were idly walking down 6th Street in downtown Austin on the sunny Monday afternoon. We were trying our best to ignore the line of bouncers who tried to lure us into their bars with $3 Moscow Mules and the army of vendors on every corner throwing flyers, coupons and advertisements for their new app in our faces. What I couldn’t ignore though was a man who came
up to us as we stood outside a tattoo parlor waiting to go inside to get free Harley Quinn tattoos (don’t worry — they were temporary).
“Hello, I’m a Buddhist monk,” he said flatly. I barely finished a “Hi” before he shoved a stack of books and CDs into my hands. “These are some books about Buddhism we’ve received as donations so people can better understand what it’s about.” He flipped through some of the pages of a book on meditation, and then explained the CD was actually recorded by his monk band (apparently even monks rock out). It all seemed harmless, and then he said, “Would you like to buy any of them and make a donation to us? You decide what to pay.” He looked me dead in the eyes.
Of course, I thought. I should have realized this would end in him trying to sell me something. But the whole interaction happened so quickly, and frankly, a Buddhist monk is the last person I expected to ambush me with a sale. I panicked — I was already holding his books and CDs in my hand and giving them back felt rude somehow. “Uhm, I don’t have any cash,” I stammered, thinking that’d get me out of his clutches. “That’s okay, I take credit cards too,” he said, pulling a Square Cash reader and an iPhone out of his bag. “I also have a version of that CD on vinyl if you have a record player.” My jaw hung open. He continued to stare at me.
One part impressed and one part shocked, I chose a book called “Dharma: The Way of Transcendence.” I gave him $3. “That’s the first book I read about meditation, actually!” His reassurance made me feel better about my impulse purchase. He swiped my card, gave me a sincere thank you and then went on his way. It was the best money I spent the entire time I was there.