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Diving into the intensity that is SxSW Interactive

I knew that South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive has long been a tech magnet, but I felt that connection firsthand when I went to book my flight to Austin from San Francisco.

Almost every flight was sold out and prices were outlandish. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised as I was travelling from one tech hub to another.

Living in San Francisco, I know that I’m surrounded by endless people with endless capital inventing the next big thing. But to be honest, I feel it in my rent more than anything else. Sure, coffee shops overflow with the energy of entrepreneurship, packed with people brainstorming big ideas. But the sweat and labor and details of those interactions are often behind closed doors or out of earshot. As much as I try to stay connected with the next big thing, it’s impossible to know everything that’s brewing around the world.

Before even stepping foot in Austin, I started delving online into the 1,000-plus talks to try to get a pulse on what the next few days would entail. My first reaction was that it’s really cool to get to see the glimpses into all of these ideas at the forefront of innovation across the country. The immediate second reaction was fear — with so much information to be had in such a short period of time there is absolutely no way to catch even a small portion of it.

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Food trucks are a big part of the Austin experience. They were all over the SxSW area. Many offered classics but there were also super-creative fusions of cuisines.
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Illustrators helped visually summarize the keynote sessions.
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There was a huge international presence. This was apparent in the Startup Showcase floor that displayed a lot of gadgets and gizmos from all around the world.
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Example of 4D augmented reality by Daqri for Crayola.
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GE BBQ Research hangout had all kinds of BBQ-themed events but the main event was eating. They did experiments with smoked ice cream and reading brain waves as you ate BBQ. Each day was capped with a BBQ keynote.

Drinking from the fire hose is an understatement. How do you choose which talk to go to when there are five talks at the same time for health and med tech alone? And that’s just one of 15 concurrent topics. Do I just choose one of the topics and go all in? Do I pick the five best and skim the top? Do I wander the floors and try to get the feel for all 15? I can’t even juggle watching TV and answering a phone call at the same time, so the last option sounded disastrous. On the other hand, I can’t brush my teeth without getting bored and checking my email.

So my plan was to delve into health and med but change things up with some of the more interesting topics to me – design and development, wearable tech, future dining, intelligent future and startup village – all rounded out with some good old bootstrapped exploration.

Five days later, my brain is still wrapping itself around everything that I learned. It was a remarkable experience. Technology is bringing seismic shifts in healthcare, our homes, our relationships to ourselves and others, our work and society as a whole. My fellow SxSW explorer, Chris Harris, and I will be sharing our insights with you starting next week.

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