See all of Kit O’Connell’s SXSW Interactive coverage at firedoglake.com/sxsw
SXSW Interactive 2013 formally ended Tuesday, though the trade show continued through Wednesday. With this post, I’ll try to wrap up my experiences at the event. It won’t be the end of my coverage — I have several more articles to write and followup interviews to conduct.
Much of South by Southwest is a giant marketing pitch that one pays for the privilege of attending. Startups try to get a foot in the door while everyone attempts to wow the crowds with their newest technologies. Yet like other events fertile with creativity, from Burning Man to Occupy Wall Street, serendipity brings people together in interesting new ways who might never have spoken otherwise — and this is the real power of such gatherings.
Just as I explained in my introduction, I didn’t try to attend the biggest panels but the ones that interested me most. Often my plans went awry and I ended up doing something completely different than planned. Here is my eclectic recap and personal “Best of” SXSW Interactive 2013.
Best Call to Action: @TarenSK at Aaron Swartz Town Hall (#AaronSXSW)
The entire #AaronSXSW Town Hall was a sign of how much the Swartz case has radicalized the tech set. But in particular, @TarenSK’s speech to the crowd was especially demanding in all the right ways. Why haven’t academics risen up at what happened? Why doesn’t the media question the official story more? Why aren’t you doing more to change the world? Thanks to @TarenSK and the other panelists assembled by DemandProgress, the non-profit Aaron founded, geeks everywhere are thinking about privilege and the prison-industrial complex for the first time in their lives.
Most Mind-Blowing: 100 YSS
What would we need to do in order to travel to the stars? How would we survive decades aboard a space ship — not just what propulsion or life support systems, but how would we create sustainable food supplies and social order? If you take these questions one step further, you realize that every solution we need to travel in a self-contained star ship will also help us here on Earth. While people elsewhere were arguing about how to sell mobile phone apps, LeVar Burton, Dr. Mae Jemison (astronaut) and Dr. Jill Tarter (of SETI) were making us think about humanity’s future.
More: Tweets from #100YSS, article coming soon
Best Meetup: Texas Observer Scrappy Journalists
The Texas Observer is a non-profit magazine dedicated to finding issues under-reported by the state’s mainstream media. Founded in 1954, one of the magazine’s editors told us that they are doing better than ever because distrust of the mainstream media is at an all time high. Judging by the conversation at the gathering, alternative journalism is doing fine. In addition to journalists, the meetup was populated by authors researching important but obscure parts of history, developers of new online communications technologies, and happily, librarians. The discussion at the tables in the ballroom of the Driskill Hotel (which sadly would not let the Observer bring in a keg) was a sharp contrast to my previous panel. Whereas this group was eager to learn about new technologies, many of the mainstream media journalists at Is It Social Media or Is It Journalism? were still struggling to get their editors to accept their use of twitter.
Best Chance Meeting: Jason from NASA
A chance encounter at the LGBTQ meetup got me talking with Jason from NASA social media (sorry I didn’t get your card!). He told me about livetweeting the Mars Rover landing. Watching Jason’s face light up as he described this high point of his life and career reminded me why I do this stuff. Thanks!
Two panels at SXSW attempted to put Anonymous into the context of history, making it not just a collective of loosely allied activists but a modern expression well-documented urge to hide behind a mask. Finn Brunton, Assistant Professor of Information at University of Michigan School of Information, anthropologist and world-renowned Anonymous scholar Gabriella Coleman, and journalist of activist movements Quinn Norton focused on the modern Anonymous collective itself and its origins. In a panel on the last day, First Amendment lawyer Nabiha Syed and historial Katie Engelhart talked about the larger context of anonymity — where it fits into history and how our attitudes toward it change.
Happiest Accident: Year of the Gli.tc/h
I accidentally stumbled on an inspiring panel about accidents. Though headquartered at the Convention Center, SXSW is spread all through Austin. In this case I went into the wrong room at the Omni Hotel and got inspired to think about mistakes in a whole new way. If the most frustrating thing in the universe (practically) is a source of great art for some, what can glitches become for me?
Best Street Art: Street Crash
The intersection on 6th street was shut down to vehicular traffic but full of pedestrians and cyclists. A mobile sound system appeared, and then a group of seemingly normal people started gathering. Only some acted bizarrely robotic — obsessively tinkering with a DJ system, arguing about whether they wanted to be photographed or telling everyone to go see their band. And then of course, robots:
Then they vomited streamers made of money and ran away.
SXSW is full of oddly dressed people trying to sell something, but only one group of people dressed as robots vomiting money. Congrats, to Agent Red and Street Crash for making Southby weirder and more fun.
Photo of LeVar Burton and the Street Crash by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved. Anonymous photo by Joachim S. Müller released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.