I have mixed feelings about SXSW.
On one hand it’s the single event during the year were you can safely assume that the largest % of people you know from the internets will all be in the same city at the same time. You’ll get to meet people in person you’ve only talked to online and see people speak who you’ve previously only read. You get to experience the very surreal atmosphere that comes from 9 out or 10 people on every block for several blocks around all being web geeks. You’ll over hear some of the most amazing things, and if you are lucky meet new people who will become life long friends. I met Tara there last year, so that pretty much speaks for itself. If you aren’t in a committed relationship of one kind or another then there’s also a whole world of endless hotel rooms only minutes away that can be very interesting. Every time I’ve spoken at SXSW it’s lead to an invite to speak at another event, as well as generally several bits of follow up press.
On the other hand with so many people crammed into such small space there are inevitably going to be things happening at the same time forcing you to miss one thing for another, and attendance limits at other things preventing you from getting in to somethings you want to. What this creates is a micro universe of hyper celebrity where if you have a pass to one event suddenly everyone wants to be your friend and hopefully your plus one. And if you know the person working the door or have a VIP area wristband or lanyard that’s only multiplied. If you don’t have any of those things you have to either wait in endless lines, hang on every SMS or tweet to find out where the coolest spot is to try and rush there before the crouds, or hunt down a friend with one of these elusive hook ups and beg to sneak in with them.
This kind of thing bothers some people more than others. In fact many people look forward to it. I know folks who are ordinary people 51 weeks a year, but next week in Austin will be rockstars. I know people who are high powered center of attention at their real jobs who get to blend in and just “party” for a week. Maybe because of years of touring with bands or the ingrained punk rock ethics I grew up with I find a lot of that disgusting. It disappointing to see people so anxious to be a part of it, and honestly while in the middle of it it’s disappointing to see how easy it is to get sucked into. Last year I was lucky enough to have a friend shake some sense into me and ask me what the fuck I thought I was doing. It was embarrassing to realize that I was so easily embracing so much I regularly avoid, but I felt fortunate to have people around me call me on my shit. If my friends don’t kick my ass every once and a while I get nervous. Anyway, my point it SXSW creates a scene that I’m not entirely comfortable being a part of.
You’ll notice that most of what I’m talking about is the events and scene surrounding SXSW and not the conference itself. That because, unlike most other conferences where the conference is the center event and other things are scheduled around – there is no main event at SXSW. Everyone being in the city is the event, and people fill every minute with anything they can. That isn’t a slag on SXSW at all, I think the organizers have done an amazing job building a cornerstone can’t miss event and there are few people as cool and on top of it as Hugh who runs the interactive arm that I’ve been lucky enough to speak at on many occasions. It’s a simple problem of too much to do with too many people in too short a time. Frequently parties are planned a year in advance so as to “lay claim” to a night in hopes that no one schedules a competing high profile event on the same date and increasingly events are being scheduled during the day meaning attendies are forced to chose between the sessions and the meetups – and more often then not the social events win out. This isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just how it sort of works out.
This year my ‘How to change the world in 5 easy steps‘ talk proposal was accepted and I was supposed to be giving it tomorrow afternoon. A few weeks ago I realize that this weekend was smack dab in the time when I’d be mid move and we’re also in the middle of some big stuff with Metblogs so justifying taking the time off to go there for what was really more of a fun philosophical talk and not really business was just too hard to do. Additionally I have an old client with an extremely overdue bill so saving a few hundred bucks on plane fares and hotel fees seemed like a good idea so I canceled. I’m sure I’ll read about it on twitter and see the pics and posts so I don’t think I’ll miss too much. Hell, last year I was following more than a few sessions via those avenues while I was somewhere else in the city so I think I can still get what I want out of it without actually being there.
I don’t know if anyone was planning to attend my session and I’m sorry if you were and now it won’t be happening. I think in lieu of actually giving the talk I’m going to make a series of posts here covering the topic and hopefully we can have the same discussions in the comments. For anyone that is going, have a blast and I’m sure we’ll run into each other in some other city in the not too distant future!