I’m talking about SXSW 2012 (as well as bits about the history and relevance of the event) on the WELL. [Link]
SXSW started in 1987 as a quirky event inspired by New York City’s New
Music Seminar and festival, but I didn’t get involved until 1994, when
the event added Multimedia to the mix. I’ve been going and involved in
various ways ever since. We were encouraging the producers of
Multimedia to include Internet programming, and my recollection is that
it took 2-3 years for the Multimedia conference to become
Internet-focused. The name changed to SXSW Interactive in 1999.
Interactive was at that point smaller than Music and Film, and in the
early years of blogging and social software, it became a go-to
conference to people with that focus. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a
digital technology conference, though there are always sessions that
are about tech. It’s more of a digital culture conference encompassing
a broad range of online scenes, activities, platforms etc.
As such, the conference/festival tends to reflect the state of the
online world in any given year. Following digital convergence, all
media are digital media. Analog has become a quaint exception. Given
that, there’s huge interest in all things interactive, and the festival
has become the largest of its kind – in fact there’s nothing quite
This year Internet has mainstreamed, broadband adoption is high, even
your 90 year old grandmother is liable to have a Facebook account –
probably to track what the kids are doing, but once you’re online
you’re drawn into any number of scenes and pursuits. Digital culture is
not just culture. Everything has digital implications.
So the interesting thing about SXSW this year was that there wasn’t
much new. As a friend was pointing out to me, it was less about hearing
about new cool stuff or jamming in innovative ways, and more about
exposure to the best of the best of technology and culture. The
conference is so huge, it attracts those people, and that creates a
special kind of energy, though not the same as the energy of the
festival when it was smaller, quirkier, more innovative.
And it’s a place where everybody shows up, so there are a lot of
people who have working and personal relationships online but never get
to see each other face to face; they can come together here and have
side meetings of some duration, get things done, have a brief but
deeper experience of each other.