SXSW interactive is finally winding down, and people have been making their way home. Everyone walking around the convention centre has got the thousand yard stare, stunned by what they’ve seen this week. Here’s five things that will have left them shell shocked this week:
The Big Questions
Unlike CES, another big technology focused show, SXSW is less about showing off new things. While you get the occasional successful new product launch (such as Meerkat, this year’s hot new App), what SXSW is great at is asking some really big questions. We had Steven Wolfram blowing people’s minds with his approach to mathematics, Malcolm Gladwell discussing behaviour change, and Martine Rothblatt discussing AI and immortality. These guys are real pioneers in their respective areas, and it’s amazing to hear their visions for the future.
One of the big themes this year was not just what is all this new stuff letting us do, but what impact is it having on us. There was a great talk from Pinterest where Raashi Bhalla talked into the impact technology is having on our brains. The guys from Salesforce hosted a similar talk where they looked at instant gratification, and the impact this was having on how we think. Our session was focused on multi-tasking, and what switching channels 21 times an hour is doing to our cognition. In a world of such quick acceleration, it’s refreshing to see people finally taking a step back and trying to work out what this technology is doing to our heads.
People refusing to take no for an answer
One of the most amazing sessions came from Hugh Herr of MIT. Hugh was a voracious climber who ended up stranded in some mountains, got frostbite in both of his legs and ended up having them amputated. When he spoke to the doctor about it he was incredibly optimistic - he told the doctor he wanted to climb again. The doctor instantly told him he could forget about it. Instead, Hugh then decided to set up MITs centre for extreme bionics, where he has been working to end disability. I think a lot of people could learn from Hugh in not taking no for an answer.
Artery Clogging Indulgence
Texas does everything bigger and better, and the food is no exception. The food here is insane. No exaggeration, one place (Frank’s) serves hotdogs stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, and deep fried. After a week of walking around Texas it gets pretty overwhelming, and for the past day or two everyone has been desperately searching for vegetables. It’s amazing, but I think we’re all going home with some extra belly baggage.
Everything here has felt very connected - and I don’t mean the internet of things. The main attraction to SXSW is the people, with some of the brightest and best coming together from all corners of the globe. Despite this year being the biggest so far, in some ways it felt smaller than ever. We got to meet so many amazing people, and hear really different perspectives that challenge your thinking. From a purely logistical perspective, increased WiFi coverage and the maturing of WhatsApp have been a lifesaver, helping everyone co-ordinate in a sea of chaos.
Overall this year has been one of the best in recent memory, and remains an absolutely unmissable event for 2016.
Felix Morgan is an innovator for HeyHuman