This year’s iteration of SXSW Interactive—even with the crowds and the stress of traveling across Austin for various sessions and workshops—was indeed a success. We went, we saw, we conquered, and we learned from some of the brightest minds in the world. Whether sitting in on talks by astrophysicists and the like or just hanging out on Sixth Street, there was always something interesting to see and hear.
Here are some of the most memorable:
Before even walking into the Austin Convention Center on Friday, a crowd gathered around a moving, talking robot stopped us. The machine, sponsored by Adobe, was responding and reacting to questions from its audience, just like R2D2, the robot created by Autodesk, a $2 billion company that develops software and technologies to aid individuals in everyday tasks. In his talk on the “robot revolution”, Carl Bass said he expects the number of individuals who inhabit the Earth in 2040 (9 billion if you’re wondering) to be exceeded by the number of robots and “smart” computers.
As weird as it was to see Seth Meyers somewhere other than Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” report, catching Meyers at SXSWi was a big treat. Plus, we arrived front row to the comedian’s panel with NBC writer/producer Mike Shoemaker, moderated by “The Newsroom” star Olivia Munn, which made it all the more sweet. After giving us behind-the-scenes secrets about his time at SNL and his newest venture, Meyers fielded questions from the audience (‘can I take a selfie of us?’) and (‘will Stefon make an appearance on “Late Night?’… the answer is yes) with wit and grace. Meyers seemed genuinely happy to be at South By, mentioning his recent nuptials and even addressing his wife on the side of the stage, who told us a secret: Seth will do whatever it takes to make leftover meals into a sandwich. In a festival full of serious thinkers and doers, Meyers didn’t fail to provide such much needed laughs.
Veteran journalist Glenn Greenwald was the original writer who had access to Edward Snowden’s documents on the NSA surveillance program and has been an advocate for him ever since. In his talk at SXSW, he said anyone doing communications over the Internet would be shocked to know how their steps are being tracked. Greenwald challenged audience members in his virtual talk to consider encryption. “If you’re really upset about what the NSA is doing, the question should then be as an individual, what should I do to stop them?” he asked. Though Greenwald says he doubts the ability of elected government officials to encourage the use of encryption for individuals, there’s one entity that can help. “There are definitely strides that the tech community needs to make those tools even more user friendly,” he said.
What’s wrong with a little bit of self-promotion? We headed up to downtown Austin bar Swan Dive for some Paste-related activities. Paste editors were on the scene interviewing actors, directors and comedians like Jason Ritter and Saar Klein about their latest projects Sunday and Monday afternoon, but a favorite talk was from the magazine’s fearless leader, Josh Jackson. Being interviewed by Paste Movies Editor Michael Dunaway, Jackson highlighted the magazine’s recent online makeover and foray into new topics, like design, tech, books and drink. Beginning in 1998 as a music magazine, Jackson said the editorial team learned quickly that they needed to cover more than just music to build an audience. Now that Paste is exploring other subject matter, there is a (good) “clash of different kinds of culture coming together.” Plus, now the magazine can throw even more awesome parties at South By.
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur or investor, the Startup Village is just fascinating. It’s a chance to get a sneak peek on what’s coming up in culture – truly, there are some really innovative ideas, business plans and apps being presented here. What we’re most excited about? Some of the apps already ready for iOS and Android systems, like Lively and Shoto, which were previewed on Paste here.
Taking notes can be so dull, especially when you’re on day four of SXSW and the talks are being delivered by geniuses. That’s where ImageThink came in. Based on the idea that 2/3 of individuals are visual learners and that “combining images with text or speech increases retention by 40%”, this company used pretty colors and what they call “graphic recording” to break down some of the concepts at SXSWi. When overarching ideas sometimes got muddled (or I just looked down to check my email and missed something), I could look up at the ImageThink artists’ creation. Afterwards, I’d take a photo of the finished product so that I can go back and remember the main points of the talk in the future. Way more fun— and colorful—than traditional note-taking.
So, it wasn’t really a monologue as much as an interview led by Scientific American journalist Christie Nicholson, but Tyson was definitely engaging in his talk on society’s embrace of scientific concepts. We’re not saying we followed the astrophysicist’s train of thought from beginning to end, but what he had to say was worth listening to. Adhering to the belief that textbooks, movies and pop culture in general usually get basic science wrong, Tyson was proud to plug his new-ish (based on the original Carl Sagan series) show on Fox, “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” which was introduced by President Obama in its March 9 debut.
SXSW Interactive is one of the only places in the world where wearing Google Glass doesn’t make you look absolutely insane. However, we experienced our fair share of awkward moments, mostly involving a moment when you think a nice stranger is striking up a conversation but is instead asking Google Glass a question. To be fair, SXSWi is “Spring Break for nerds,” as a Chicago gentleman described it on a shuttle ride, but the proliferation of Glass pointed to something more meaningful—wearables are the future. It just makes you wonder, what will we be wearing to SXSWi 2024?