SXSW 2017: The Battle for Humanity

Over the years, SXSW has been less about breaking news or product launches and more about converging to talk about what products mean, what technology makes possible and what’s being built on the systems, platforms and devices that made headlines at other trade shows. 

This made SXSW 2017 the perfect place for a conversation around the most significant tech topic of our time: the very nature of technology’s role in our lives.

We saw a new trend arise: the Battle for Humanity, which is born from general unease that technology and screens may be removing our core human essence and separating us from the real world. Three key trends emerged as a result of this struggle between man vs. machine, all centered around the question on everyone’s mind in Austin: Is all this change good for us?

Data Transparency and “Trading”

People are becoming increasingly aware that everything they do online creates a trail of data that is bought and sold by publishers, advertising agencies and brands. While many people — especially younger generations — are comfortable sharing personal data on social media, they may be less comfortable when it comes to sharing data with emerging technologies that power smart homes, wearables, connected cars and voice-activated assistants. 

To foster trust, brands should become more transparent with users around the personal data they collect and how that data is being used.

IBM invited SXSW attendees to take a photo of themselves and take a cyber-security test. Depending on the amount of information they provided, their photo would appear on a wall as blurry (if they entered less data) or clear (if they overshared).

Other SXSW exhibitors started to reveal the idea of “privacy trading” — incentivizing people for the use of their personal data, rather than just using it without their permission — offering free hardware for people who agree to share dashcam videos.

Shift to No Screens

The fight against screens was heating up at SXSW, as many believe removing the screen is the best way to stop us all from constantly staring at our phones. However, VR, wearables, smart insoles, AR glasses — or any other option to replace the smartphone) have not yet become mainstream. 

Voice-activated assistants like Amazon Alexa have great potential to replace screens, but SXSW was more focused on a few different solutions:


Trendy, better-made wearables and smartwatches could help the wearable market scale. To illustrate, a new “fashionable,” Project Jacquard, debuted at SXSW. Project Jacquard is a collaboration between Google and Levi’s that creates a way for people to connect through a trendy denim jacket.

Tabletop Touchscreens

Why carry a screen in your pocket when you can just project one onto a surface? In the future, every tabletop could be a touchscreen — for social networking, email, Web surfing, gaming and even making music — as showcased by the Sony Xperia.  It remains to be seen what will emerge as the future screen (or no screen). 

It could be a combination of tactile interfaces, optimal design, great battery life and helpful apps. Brands must ensure they’re visible and positioned to engage consumers if/when this new technology scales.

Content Tunnel Vision

Another hot topic, on the streets and in the sessions, was the role of algorithms and curation in spreading news (especially fake news). Do consumers have content tunnel vision?  Content producers now have the ability to hyper-personalize content to very specific audiences, especially in social. 

With fake news, the problem isn’t necessarily the volume of false stories, but the ability of these stories to go viral, with millions of shares. Personalization powers this virility. To illustrate, many consumers have created ultra-personalized, insular social media communities for themselves, allowing content producers to laser target audiences that are more likely to engage with and share the fake content. 

The big lesson for brands is that content hyper-personalization may sound great, but it can also have disadvantages. If consumers have content tunnel vision, they may only see/share content within the tunnel that they’ve created for themselves. Personalization can slot consumers into one dimension, potentially limiting visibility of new ideas or products. 

Brands should use personalization tools to their advantage, but keep in mind that sometimes, consumers are in the mindset to see something completely different, try something new or be exposed to an experience that’s not in line with their previous behavior or “profile.”



Next story loading loading..