Why Is This Year Different
If you are part of the emerging technology scene, you are probably aware of the SXSW conference that happens annually in Austin, Texas. SXSW (South by Southwest) is a festival in mid-March filled with technology, music, film, and interactive media, showcasing big-name profiles and celebrities from all genres, locations, and walks of life.
The event has been part of the Texas landscape for quite some time. It was first held in 1987 as a local music event with the expectation that a handful of people would attend; however, over 700 showed up and it instantly created a stir.
History of SXSW
To provide some perspective on the longevity of SXSW, in 1987:
- Email was called electronic mail and was mostly used by colleges and the military.
- Landline telephones had a rotary dial.
- The Boombox was how you listened to CDs.
- The cost of an Apple Macintosh computer with 128 KB’s of memory was over five thousand dollars.
Here’s more on the history of the South by Southwest Celebration:
That same year, a small group of people in Austin, Texas began a series of long discussions about the future of entertainment and media. The meetings were in the offices of The Austin Chronicle, and participants were sworn to secrecy. A fundamental opinion shared by the group was that the local creative and music communities were as talented as anywhere else on the planet, but were severely limited by a lack of exposure outside of Austin.
Music was the uniting factor, but the group had a catholic taste for art and ideas. Inclusiveness and reaching for new things were core values. The solution being discussed was an event that would bring the outside world to Austin for a close-up view.
As the key ideas were formed, recognition grew that Austin was not the only city where this was an issue. For a local event to bring the world to Austin, it needed to have value everywhere. A name was sought that was not restrictive in its concept.
Finally, in October of 1986, the announcement of the first South By Southwest was made. The SXSW group expected initial resistance from the locals, but it was quite the opposite. Almost everyone wanted to be involved. Resistance would come later.
See more here: SXSW History Intro
Events at the Festival
SXSW Conference 2018 started on March 9 and runs through March 17. It isn’t just your typical tech conference, with a wide range of topics and formats, including:
- Book Readings
- Book Signings
- Demo Listening Sessions
- Featured Speakers
- Meet Ups
- Mentor Sessions
- Pitch Events
- Podcast Stage
- Round Tables
There are appearances by politicians that receive a lot a publicity, such as this year’s discussion by Jake Tapper and Bernie Sanders on March 9, 2018.
Another powerful event was two days ago on March 11 with SpaceX & Tesla CEO Elon Musk and film director Jonathan Nolan. This Q&A session deliberated everything from artificial intelligence to colonizing Mars to self-driving cars.
Most of the conference presentations are at least an hour long and replays can be found on YouTube. This video is a teaser for SXSW 2018 does a good job of highlighting the various genres that are included.
Are Big Tech Companies Falling From Grace?
From the information I have read, it sounds like this year’s conference has a different tone than previous years. Technology and social media aren’t as beloved as they were a few years ago.
In fact, on the first night’s lineup, Facebook reps and other big names were grilled on how they have handled some important topics as of late, such as fake news and their monopoly on information and media being distributed.
According to USA Today, the backlash being received by the tech world has been dubbed with its own name – techlash. The USA Today article went on to say, “The rapid growth of Facebook, Google and Amazon has fed fears that these companies control too much of the information that gets shared and, in Amazon’s case, the goods and services consumers buy.”
Reining in the sheer amount of information and data that is sent out digitally every day is an overwhelming task. in addition, getting a grip on the people using technology for the dark side of the web that is hidden in obscurity makes you realize it’s a good thing that individuals are willing to call out the big hitters with all the control.
As the SXSW name indicates, we are still in the Wild West of technology, with artificial intelligence and machine learning in the early stages of their growth. What we envisioned as a Sci-FI movie not long ago is quickly becoming a reality.
Technology is very influential in our lives, so asking the prominent leaders in the industry to be more responsible and transparent is a recurring theme at this conference and worldwide.