I came to SXSW for one reason. It wasn’t the conference, although what I saw of it was interesting. It wasn’t the parties, I’m more introverted than I look. And it wasn’t for Texas, even though I love it, its people and its food. I came to Austin at its craziest time of year quite simply to put faces on avatars.
All year long I engage with people online and on the phone. Often I find myself working with people I’ve never actually met in real life. And for all the shiny and wonderful technology, nothing beats human connection... at the end of the day isn’t that why we build all of these products, apps and connected hardware? To bring us closer together?
Armed with my cowboy hat and bike, I was sure I’d be able to achieve my modest goal of meeting a specific set of about 10 people. Ten people in three days. How hard can that be? Turns out, it’s darn near impossible, but that’s not a bad thing. At some point on Day 1, I just gave up and went with it. With all of 24 hours to reflect, here’s my take on the wackiness that happens at SXSW.
1. Very few people seem to live SXSW in the moment
While I think it’s a worthy mission to go to SXSW to meet folks IRL, the event moves so fast online and offline it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of it all. I spent a ton of time hunched over on my iPhone and Nexus 10. When they died, my number one priority was finding power. I had to download a new-to-me app, GroupMe just to stay in touch with people who were never more than a few blocks from me. The epitome of this “hyper-connectedness” is that I was engaging with a really interesting person on Twitter during a panel only to discover three hours later that we were actually sitting next to each other!
2. SXSW is the birthplace of buzzwordsI expect to hear a lot more about #pocketmarketing in the coming days. In fact, I predict there will be at least 100 ebooks written on the subject in the next month alone. I wasn’t even at the panel where @armano invented the term, but I was following @tonia_ries while diligently listening to the panel in front of me and managed to have an entire conversation about what is now being called the “best buzzword ever” by the likes of @jowyang.
3. It’s really about serendipity
In a city where cowboy hats and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly and where you can find amazingly delicious Indian food advertised on a garbage dumpster, there will never be a shortage of serendipity. There was even an entire panel with four great minds discussing the art of serendipity, or to put it more scientifically, how to balance curiosity and commitment so the unimaginable can happen. During SXSW, the forces that be probably bestow an extra dose of serendipity on this town, but something tells me Austin is just one of those places where the unexpected, yet welcome, happens a lot.
There are few people I wanted to meet, but failed to find in the madness. Fortunately, I met a lot of unexpected folks. I even learned how to the stretch out shoes that are too small thanks to a chance encounter with an agency guy from Calgary. In a bizarre twist of events, I actually do have a pair of shoes that are too small for me so I’ll be putting my serendipitously found knowledge to good use when I get back to San Francisco.
Evy Wilkins is VP of marketing at Traackr and can be found @mainwilk