March 15th, 2011

Goodbye & thank you, Austin/#SXSWi. It was awesome. See you in 2012.

The South by Southwest Interactive conference is officially over. I am sad that it is over; the learning has been stimulating, the people have been fascinating and Austin has been a gracious host, once again. Conversely, I am so glad it is over, because I don’t think I could have physically or mentally lasted another day. My “day one” excitement was completely depleted by about 3 PM today, at which point I became a zombie. Hotel room service, a bottle of wine, a bag of M&Ms, some good friend conversation later, and I am ready to begin reflection on the week’s learning. I use the word “begin” deliberately, as I know I will not stop thinking about the things I have heard and learned for some time. I can’t wait to start applying the education to our agency, our clients, and our community.

Just at the beginning of this reflection however, I believe it is surreal to have been here.  Among the brightest, most curious and most innovative audience for interactive communications, I mostly felt somewhat inadequate and inferior.  But, then I saw droves of this audience stand in line for the new iPad 2 at the Austin Apple pop-up store, missing at least a day of the conference they paid a significant price to attend, just to have the latest technology, immediately. At that point, I felt superior.  Why would anyone sacrifice learning from those smarter than them, just so that person could appear more up-to-date than his or her peers? Don’t get me wrong, I desired the new technology enough to set an alarm to wake up at 3 AM so I could place my online order as soon as it became available for order; but that is really not a sacrifice seeing as how I sleep very little and I missed none of the conference that happens to be one of the highlights of my year.

This conference is one of the highlights of my year because it overwhelms me with opportunities for learning.  I love to learn.  I am that girl that willingly and proudly sits on the front row of lectures and actually pays attention. I am, admittedly, both a geek and a nerd. For those that don’t know, they are two different things: A “geek,” according to Wikipedia is “a computer expert or enthusiast.” And a “nerd,” also according to Wikipedia, is “a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.”  This Interactive conference is full of both geeks and nerds. And I think I fit in according to those definitions.

But, the South by Southwest Conference/Festival actually has three parts: Film, Music and Interactive.  It is both odd and interesting that these three co-exist.  To a distant observer, it is odd because Film and Music seem so distinctly entertainment-based, whereas Interactive seems so distinctly intellectually-based. But, this is not true at all anymore. There is a recognition that each is now integrated in every single way and that the SXSW team had the foresight to see that years ago. The SXSW site makes sense of it all with their mission statement:

“Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW is the premier destination for discovery.”

But, it is more than “discovery.”  The hot term of this year’s conference was “transmedia.” And that term definition really brings it all together:

“Transmedia storytelling is a technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, recognized for its use by mass media to develop media franchises.” — Wikipedia

Film, music and interactive are all ways of telling stories and communicating information.  It makes sense that communicators would use a combination of the three to reach their audiences.  The three now work in tandem, communally and in mutuality.

As with last year, the day the Interactive Conference concluded was the day the Music Festival attendees were arriving this year. I will never forget last year, on the last day, as I was riding on the shuttle back to my hotel, overhearing an Interactive female attendee as she gazed out the window at a group of people walking toward the Austin Conference Center say, almost breathlessly, “Look at that girl, she is so cool. She must be here for the music.” This year at the conclusion of the conference, and as I waited for the elevator at my hotel, I noticed that the crowd at the elevator looked significantly “cooler” than the crowd I had been waiting with in the days prior. Indeed, upon closer inspection, they all had the distinctly silver “music” passes around their necks compared to the orange “interactive” pass I had around mine. A year later, and the Music attendees are still cooler than the Interactive attendees. And, I am okay with my geek status.

So thank you, Austin, for embracing my geek and nerd status and allowing the geeks/nerds to interact with the cools of music and film, and recognizing that we can be mutually beneficial. I can’t wait to see what next year holds for us all.

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