I’m behind on summing up my thoughts on this year’s SXSW Interactive. A lot of people have panned the conference, saying “SXSW sucks,” “SXSW is dead,” and more constructively, “the conference isn’t that good.”
Fast Company called the keynote with Twitter co-founder and CEO Evan Williams, “the most horrifically devastating keynote presentation in SXSW history,” and the WSJ called it “underwhelming.” Ev knew it, and his interviewer Umair Haque even apologized.
While I’m usually far more critical than most, I honestly thought the week away from work was entirely worthwhile. I got to hang out with a ton of people who’ve been on my want-to-meet list for years, make new friends and business contacts, enjoy a rockin’ Cog’aoke karaoke competition, and eat a ton of great BBQ. Were the panels that thought-provoking? No. Did I see any new, innovative technology? Not really. But when has SXSW ever been about the content? It’s about the people. And with almost 14,000 people in attendance this year, if you can’t find people to meet who inspire you and provide you with new business opportunities, it’s not SXSW’s fault — it’s you.
This was my second year attending (last year being my first), and while I’m thrilled that I got to share the experience with my boyfriend Orian Marx this year, we both agreed that we got more out of the conference in our previous visits.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think the conference is “getting worse” or that our industry has jumped the shark. I just think there’s a universal truth about SXSW — it’s never as good as the first time.
“It is a possibility/
The more we know the less we see/
Second time is not quite what it seemed”
The first time you attend SXSW, it’s magical. It’s a long-awaited assembly of neighboring tribes who come together to share knowledge, and passion, and culture. And the first time you’re a part of it, you feel like you’ve arrived. There’s so much possibility; the field expands in front of your eyes and suddenly your career means so much more.
But once you’ve seen it, you can never un-see it. Anytime you return, you’re never going to experience that first discovery again. It’s always going to feel like a disappointment.
I just wish people could see it for what it is, put the bickering aside, and use Austin as the convergence point it’s meant to be. As professionals and human beings, we need to create our own opportunities. It would be nice if folks understood that sometimes, most of the time, you have to work to keep hope alive.
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