This was my eighth year attending South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) in Austin, TX, and the expectations were high.
The key theme I took away from SXSW 2013 was “Exponential Thinking, Exponential Opportunities,” and capitalizing on that thinking and opportunity, the main theme I took from SXSW this year was “Quit looking to others for the next big thing. Go make it yourself.”
If you followed the media attention on this year’s SXSW closely, you surely noticed there wasn’t a breakout app or innovation this year. The whole “What’s the next Twitter?” expectation has grown tired for many of us longtime attendees, but the notion isn’t as misdirected as one may think.
The opening and closing keynote presentations indirectly addressed that expectation, plus the question of whose responsibility it is to create innovation that impacts society. But there’s a twist to the tone for addressing those questions in 2014.
You see, these kinds of events aren’t about the breakouts and newsmakers…. they are about the community that inevitably designs, builds and launches the breakouts — and the people who become the newsmakers. It’s about the community who comes together, at least once a year, to connect, share, learn and collaborate.
Opening keynote presenter and artist Austin Kleon shared Brian Eno’s concept of Scenius (genius coming from a collaboration of a group, culture or movement; a community that is critical to support all amazing ideas and big thinkers).
Closing keynote presenter and futurist Bruce Sterling told of the need to mature beyond nostalgia for the past. And as I attended sessions, met new people and experienced new interactive milestones between the opening and closing keynotes, I concluded that we should stop looking for the “next Twitter” or “next Foursquare” or “next Zuckerberg” at these events, and go make something ourselves.
Because after all, this is our scenius. This our collaborative community. This community has created great things in the past, and it will again. But only if we put the onus on ourselves.
So in the spirit of the scenius of 2014, I treated the conference differently in a number of ways:
- Introduced myself to fellow attendees without mentioning what I did and where I worked, and asked the same of them. It forced us to dig deep into who we are, what we’re creating, and who we want to be.
- Held a number of “stranger dinners,” where I invited people — those I had just met, people I know from back home I never see, and people I genuinely want to know better — to stop, have dinner, process what they heard in sessions that day, and clear the dishes to have a discussion.
- Sought out 1:1 time with my coworkers, particularly those I see so rarely from our network, to connect, offer help and seek advice.
- Made time apart from or in lieu of panels to attend things like the Google Glass Explorer Meetup, SXSXinspiration Meetup, and Facebook’s Politics, Government and Non-Profits Networking Meetup, taking the initiative to meet new people and foster new connections with those attending the conference officially with a badge — as well as those unofficially enjoying the non-conference events on the fringe.
- Journaled some ideas for never-been-done-before things I want to build in the coming year.
And here are some of the favorite things we discussed as the 2014 “scenius” gathered in Austin this year:
- You can’t fight technology’s progress. And we should work to adapt our society to leverage new technology.
- White collar, repetitive knowledge workers will be replaced by automation, just as robots replaced blue collar, manufacturing workers.
- No great artist or filmmaker ever referred to their works as “content.”
- We can record the biometrics of everyone in the world in the cloud — and still have plenty of storage left for all of human history.
- The importance of privacy, personal data and abuse from government.
- The state of curiosity is a measure of intelligence.
- The future of ethical programming for autonomous experiences.
- The risk of legislators creating laws about technology they don’t understand.
- The cultural dissonance of technology that comes from the introduction of new devices.
Pretty great topics, right? Oh, and I also got 3D scanned and printed. That was a first.
Overall, another amazing year. I came back energized and excited for what’s to come in 2014. Let’s go make something!
Full notes (via Twitter) broken out by session/topic after the jump!