SXSWi: The Review

I was struck, immediately upon entering the Austin Conference Center for SXSWi, that I was way behind the curve when it comes to technology. See, I’ve always considered myself somewhat tech-savvy. Although I was continually knocking passers-by about with my bulky Swiss Army laptop backpack on sudden (apparently unnervingly aggressive) pedestrian turns when a perpendicularly flashy icon would attract my flighty attention-span, I still figured I was switched on enough to intellectually navigate the figurative intricacies of the tech mob.

I’ve replaced video cards and power supplies on my desktops. I’ve upgraded motherboards. I’ve figured out driver problems all on my lonesome with no training or previous experience. Operating system reinstallations are a breeze. The brief flash of pride I undergo when I accomplish such lofty digital heights spur me on to explore new dimensions of physical intimacy within the mysteries of technology.

SXSWi taught me I actually knew nothing. It was simultaneously depressing and swarming with elation; the level of technology on display both shamed and inspired me.

In the audiences at panel discussions, when I pulled out my two-year-old laptop or clunky five-year-old PDA amidst the curiously unhumming ocean of macbooks and smartphones, I wanted to hide in a corner. I even regressed to using paper and pen in some presentations, to create the illusion my machinery was too expensive to flaunt in the company of techies that might moonlight as muggers. To preserve my sanity I adopted the vanity, in the company of folks tapping away on the latest wafer-thin laptops, of “Sure, but can you actually WRITE?”

An unfounded conceit, much to my chagrin.

With the top-heavy number of presentations, invariably there’s going to be outliers.

Racism reared it’s ugly head in the form of panel discussions addressing the relevancy of several ethnic groups in modern networking. I neatly sidestepped such ridiculous prison-like ideological discussions; frankly, I was shocked to see such socially-dividing daftness on the itinerary. This is 2010, folks. Not 1910. Get with the program. I advise violently shaking people by the shoulders that imagine ethnicity or sexual orientation still an issue. We can’t go global until the globe starts behaving like one.

The revelations I experienced were palpable. Especially when I listened to such futurist luminaries as Bruce Sterling, who closed the show, and social media experts such as Danah Boyd, who opened it.

The ideas they espoused were both dense and visceral. We’re heading somewhere new. Somewhere no one has ever gone. If you’ll forgive my Star Trek analogy, we’re heading for a technologically-driven social utopia. We thought we were going that way ten years ago, but overenthusiastic investment in burgeoning technologies put paid to that potential technoscape. Now we’re under the control of adroit business, with a healthy eye on the pocketbook rather than ethereal potential. We need that control to rein in the bloated flights of fancy that underscored the techno-bubble burst of 2000.

The future is there, and we honestly, finally, have some idea how it will look.

In the history of this small, blue, spec of dust screaming through outer space at over two million miles per hour, there’s never been a more exciting time to be alive.

The global tribe is an inevitability. Let’s get on with it.


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