First impressions from SXSW interactive 2013

I have a short break in my schedule, so I thought it would be interesting to provide you with some insights into this year’s first day of the interactive festival at South by Southwest, also know as SxSW (and technically SxSWi for the interactive part of the programme) on Twitter.

Loosing my SxSW virginity

The most important learning I take from the day is about logistics and the spirit of events of this type. It’s important to go with the flow, not to overplan and to be able to prioritise without feeling frustrated.

I had planned to connect with several people attending SxSW from Belgium and the States who had told me they were coming, and so I did. But one thing I hadn’t planned is to bump into many more people I knew here in Austin.

The event is the biggest event I’ve ever been to. If one needed comparisons, I guess it would be a bit like the Basel Art Fair for an art dealer or the Milan Book Fair for a publisher. So imagine the level of excitement that keeps people all around busy and smiling.

I discovered some hidden rules of the festival, the celebrity spotting in the Hilton elevators, the chicken wings SXWS launch tradition of the crazy Belgian geeks, the party crashing based on Instagram hints, the green cheese sandwiches and the many other tricks you learn as you wander about the Austin convention center and the downtown area.

Feeling the positive energy

I went to 3 sessions on Friday, despite the persistent fatigue from jet lag and the travelling from Europe:

  • SXSW interactive opening session by Bre Pettis, founder of Makerbot, a 3D printing company
  • The future of crisis communication panel with U.S. military and University of Washington professors
  • The consumerisation of revolutions by LevelUp founder Seth Priebatsch.

My mind was blown away by the possibilities of 3D printing presented at the opening session, especially when Bre introduced their new 3D digitizer which allows you to model for 3D printing any existing physical object not exceeding a certain size. The impact of 3D printing on manufacturing has already started, but it’s difficult to assess how deep it will affect industrial production in the future.

One thing is certain: if it continues to rely heavily on plastic and we don’t find a way to produce these objects with other raw materials. I would also have like to know what the environmental impact of 3D printing was at the level of the ecosystem, will it reduce it ultimately or increase it since people will all want to own one in the future, considering how convenient it is.

It was great to hear from the U.S. military how they implement joint information centers in crisis situations (weather or health related) in a matter of minutes, thanks to internet, blogs and social networks such as Twitter.

The panelists emphasised the need for more flexibility and trust in managing crisis situations from a communications and PR perspective, with virtualisation of crisis teams, the increasing use of cloud environments and the leveraging of local community influencers to spread safety messages.

The last speaker I heard yesterday was impressive. Very young, a (co?) founder of LevelUp, a virtual payment system through your smartphone, he made a strong impression through his very structured argumentation about why the young generation today is facing a structural innovation gap and what can be done to overcome this.

He believes that young people today cannot solve the world’s complex problems with the innovation tools of tomorrow for a simple reason: while world population has grown exponentially over the last 150 years, innovation infrastructures (in particular education, manufacturing, money and energy) have grown in a linear way, so that today there is a gap between the innovation necessary to overcome these problems and the infrastructures available to trigger this innovation.

He went on to describe for the 4 areas mentioned above what the current infrastructure was and how new infrastructures could help spur a new kind of innovation:

  • in education, it’s elearning and initiatives such as edX
  • in manufacturing, it’s 3D printing
  • in currency, it’s virtual money and payment solutions such as Bitcoin, Google wallet and Dwolla.
  • in energy, it’s the use of a smart grid.

His brilliant demonstration however left me with a sense of frustration as he doesn’t link these innovations back to the societal challenges of bringing them about structurally. He mentions mostly business initiatives and misses out on the most fundamental shift – in my opinion – which is the political paradigm shift in our modern societies.

The discovery of Austin’s bustling and crazy nightlife, boosted by the presence of thousands of geeky SXSW participants, made my day. I’m looking forward to meeting new people tomorrow and sucking in more of all that positive energy that flows all around the place. What a day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− one = two