Once a focal point of the digital design industry, the event has grown in size and ambition to become a forum for a wide variety of contemporary issues, seemingly random in nature and curated around no clear principles, but nevertheless there were 8 key themes on display at SXSW.
1) The Me’Conomy
Let’s be honest. The rise of the visual Web from Instagram to Vine and the obsession with up votes and shares has led to people not just living life, but broadcasting it. No longer is it enough to do something/ Unless we snapped it, uploaded it, shared it and commented on it, it’s like it never happened. I tweet, therefore I am.
From gif-taking photo booths to portraits in cappuccinos, to endless selfie sticks and step & repeats, SXSW was a festival for all things me. Now our curated social feeds reflect our personal brands more than our handbags ever could. The star of the show, of course being Meerkat -- our chance to broadcast live to the world what we’re doing, regardless of whether anyone cares.
2) Adventure Capitalism
This year, SXSW doubled the size of its start-up village— and to be fair, it wasn’t small before.
We’re in a golden age for entrepreneurs; the ample funding from VCs, endless and encouraging coverage of unicorn start-ups, funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, a whole ecosystem of support from incubators to accelerators, and most of all, the lowest company start-up costs the world has ever known.
In these heady, euphoric times, it seems launching a start-up is the new year out. Millennials are leaving formal education to fail fast and learn from their mistakes. Brands look to become increasingly involved. From McDonald’s replication of Dragon’s Den, and MasterCard’s Priceless Elevator Pitch -- ample money and support were on display.
3) Human Technology
Technology is enveloping us.
For years, we’ve had an uncomfortable relationship with technology. We’ve tried to keep it away from us, but now we’re pulling it closer.
Our screens from the late 19th century to today have evolved from cinema, TV, desktop, laptop, mobile phones and now wearables. We’re getting closer, to ever smaller screens that are increasingly personal and intimate. We no longer own single devices, and soon we will host our own personal ecosystems of connecting devices.
Our relationship with technology is changing, from tech we wear to more intimate data we share. From smartwatches to smart shoes, from Google Now to Microsoft’s Cortana, technology is engulfing us.
4) Your Mobile Home
Our phones have become our gateway to everything. Since 2003, it has been “the era of mobile,” but what took longer to arrive than expected has transformed our lives more than anyone predicted.
Our phones are no longer just devices helping us to consume media or shop -- they have become our primary interface with everything around us. From operating our smart homes and booking travel, to paying for merchandise and monitoring our health activity, a number of companies at SXSW have shown that our phone can be our personal hub for literally anything, they are light switches, cooker controls, plant waterers -- not just access to everything ever made in the history of mankind.
5) Digital Reimagination
Slowly it’s dawning on all companies that to be successful in the long term, they must embrace digital at the foundation, and stop making it a “thing.”
It’s commonly believed that there are two types of companies: those that ignore technology, bury their heads in the sand and hope for the best, and those that welcome the new, who have adapted to the modern age and have a head for digital, a great Web site and an app.
A third type is developing; a digital-first company. These are companies rebuilt for the modern age, that see digital at the center of everything they do.
With this mindset, fast food joints, such as McDonald’s, think about how they can act as charging stations and places to share digital images, gyms like Equinox transition from being places to work out to health management companies, car ownership turns into car access, Sonos transcends its origins from being a speaker maker to become a gateway to music and more.
6) Artificial Intelligence
When Big Data meets with hyper-connectivity and incredibly powerful processing, we’re on the verge of something new and amazing: artificial intelligence.
From Chef Watson at IBM’s cognitive cooking machine, to Bina48, Martine Rothblatt’s android-robot-wife, SXSW became a microcosm of what a future AI-fueled world would look like. We’ve been talking about robots taking over the world for years, but this year the threat seemed real enough for protestors to march with painted signs and poorly worded chants.
7) The Democratization of Creativity
Thanks to better and more widely available tools, anyone can now be part of the creative class.
For the first time in history, the regulars can compete with creative professionals in a variety of ways. The new iPhone 6 ad campaign demonstrates how anyone with an idea can take world-class pictures. 3D printing now turns our dreams into creations. From 3D scanners to 3D pens to pro-quality 4K video cameras and a plethora of cheap apps, it seems anyone can make anything.
Distribution and funding are changing things too. YouTube can launch careers and make celebrities of music or makeup artists, while Kickstarter can propel any idea to business fame. We once relied on a range of professionals to decide what we could wear, buy, watch and listen to. Now we just use our own judgement.
8) Simplicity Seeking
What does mindfulness look like in the digital age? Many of the most successful talks at SXSW addressed humanity’s reaction to new technology and how the constant demands of the modern age are changing the way people behave.
Some say the next generation should be called Generation Moth, as they’ll endlessly stare at the light on their screens. However, SXSW saw the development of apps and hardware to free us from our screens.
Wearables’ best hope of a use case is turning media into glance-able screens, so people can live with less focus on the phone. Software developments in the notification layer, and smart invisible apps like Dark Sky and Foursquare’s Swarm, run in the background.
We have apps like Pocket Points reward students for not checking their phones, and in theory things around us are getting smarter to alleviate the cognitive burden of thinking.
This is an abridged version of 10 trends from SXSW with more examples, that can be downloaded here.
My social media students henceforth have a new required reading. Thank you.