SXSWi 2012

SXSW Trade Show on Monday, my favorite part, along with playing with all the beta apps I accumulated on my phone. Photo from SXSW

…the aftermath

By Sarah O’Donnell

So I went to SXSWi this weekend in Austin TX, and my mind is still trying to wrap itself around what happened to me and what exactly this gigantic (and I mean HUGE) experience means not just to me but in general.

My current thoughts on SXSW 2012:
remember, I’m not generally billed as a writer or a blogger, so please be gentle.

1. I hate flying

This is not really all that accurate. I hated it on Friday night. Especially with long layovers most likely due to “unruly” (*cough* insane *cough*) airline attendants

solar flare seen by NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA:GSFC

Or it could have been a not so fantastic flying day because of the solar flares from our sun (eek) and the airlines not knowing “quite what effect that might have”. In either case I am grateful for the added procaution but it does make for a long day (or night in our case).

2. Um, there are a lot of freakin’ people here

Registration for SWSX Interactive had a line 3-4 hours long at times. (luckily I missed this line as I didn't check in until saturday)

And probably the first thing you should know about the SWSXi conference is calling it “crowded” is an unbelievably vast understatement. I literally don’t think I knew it was possible for there to be that many people in one area. Sometimes you couldn’t walk. Sometimes you had to wait on your shuttle (to take you to one of 11-13 satellite campuses for panels) a really long time, sometimes after waiting on that shuttle you’d get to your panel (where you desperately wanted to see somebody extremely impressive and knowledgeable speak and soak up their knowledge) and it would be full.
Want an idea of how crowded? Last count about 20,000 people were at the SXSW Interactive portion of the week long conference, Austin’s normal population is a mere 8,000 or so more than that.

A view from one of the upper floors of the masses trying to get their tech on. I'm not kidding it was a TON of people. Credit: nyced

We crammed a lot of nerdy tech loving people into that neat city and it was brutal and awesome all at once. How Austin maintained it’s gracious and welcoming attitude and managed to make me feel wanted and safe and remarkably eco-friendly is beyond me. (Please don’t leave B’ham for Austin, it’s very very nice there but stay! We like you here!)

3. The crowd doesn’t matter in the end.

AT&T helped us with the consequences of our "overuse habit" by setting up charging stations where you locked your device in a locker, let it get some power, and then picked it back up, ready for more abuse.

Even though I think I sat in a chair MAYBE twice the entire time (the floor was my friend). It was cold and rainy the first two days then hot and sunny. All had to fight, FIGHT I tell you, to get access to your networks data provider, the WiFi was so overcrowded that there was no way you were getting on there. Plus, the constant threat of death that you might be killed for access to your power outlet to charge the dying devices of the desperate, I think it averaged out to 3 devices carried per person, always. In the end, the truth is, it didn’t matter.

Controversial or not, I know some people who were very grateful to whomever decided to turn some of the homeless residents of Austin into 4G hotspots.

The people of Austin, our shuttle driver (who liked to dance to Lady Gaga) the other attendants, and the people who believe in SXSW and work the whole year to make it an unforgettable experience made it almost impossible to be frustrated. The excitement over technology, social media, our evolution as people, and the “little persons” ability to bring change, was tangible; and you could not help but get caught up in the optimism.

The big time brands that were represented, sat alongside the blogger, the startup companies, the programmers, or  even me, and were all asking the same questions: where is this or that going, what it meant, how it should be used, what is HTML5 going to change for us, etc. It was very unifying to realize that we are all just living in this age of a gigantic social experiment. Even the “important people” don’t know what the hell is going on, but everybody really seemed to feel that it could all be used for a greater good. It was very uplifting and exciting.

4. They like to give you free stuff!! oh, and there are a lot of parties.

a hard won shirt with adorable hamster like creature/glomper mascot (LOOK HOW CUTE!)

I got more T-shirts this weekend then I have accumulated in all of high school and college.

I’m not kidding, and I went to great lengths to get some of these. Some I spent an hour trying to download an app for (see: reference above to poor date connectivity) and by some I mean the shirt with the awesomely cute hamster type-*thing* asking for a hug on it, I really REALLY wanted to get that thing.

you really might (my favorite pin, that now lives on my briefcase)

I have a bag full of vouchers, and pins, and shirts, and makeup samples and information and venders to contact and business cards. That I received while WALKING all DAY LONG for days. 😉

We also ate our fill of Mashable‘s empanadas they gave out for free on the Mashable Food Truck to the (apparently starved) masses, I love Mashable.

Not to mention the tacos, BBQ, sodas, water, cake pops, and all manner of other goodies they practically threw at us all day long. It made eating out a non-issue for any non-CEO types who might have been concerned about budgeting.

Mashable Food Truck

You could wash it all down with drinks of all types, at numerous happy hours and parties hosted by big names in the internet world who wanted nothing more from you than your presence and the promise that had of facebook updates, check ins, tweets, texts, and all manner of social propaganda.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t attend a lot of these, for one I kept getting lost and ending up at the Nokia Igloo and for another after a day of stuffing my brain, fighting for power outlets & internet availibility, and walking around with 20,000 other people all looking down at devices almost constantly (just like me), I just didn’t have the energy to see what “open bar” looks like at 9:30 with those same exhausted, device, information, and now beverage, hungry nerds. Had I gone it would have looked like this:

Party in SWSXi sponsored by Pandora on Saturday night. credit: Oakland Local

and I just really couldn’t do it. Plus, my hotel was great and there were new episodes of My Strange Addiction coming on TLC (I am not a loser, I am sleepy, ok?).

5. Also get these apps and lets all just dig ourselves deeper into the (awesome) insanity

I’m still processing the information gathered at this weekends festivities, and recovering from the exhaustion, but I know big things will come from this. I know that I’m empowered and excited. I know there are some really exciting changes coming to the world and I’ve some new tricks to implement.

Most of all though I’ve come away with a feeling of unity among those of us that believe in the power of new technology, of new ways of connecting with people, of how important embracing these changes are because they hold more power than they are credited for.

ALSO I am really missing my phone’s constant notifications that “so & so is nearby with 13 things in common and 4 friends” and blah blah so if some of my Birmingham people could please download the apps Highlight and/or Glomper I’d really appreciate it. It’s too quiet without all the other nerdy people wandering about.

keep Austin weird

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