I’m going to be honest here: I’m not really feeling it this year. I suspect that is approximately 100% due to the fact that I moved into a new house at the beginning of this week, and am experiencing the associated anxiety and odd depression that always seems to come with that. Don’t get me wrong, I love our new house. It’s just that I also sort of hate it at the moment.
It was in the midst of this chaos that I embarked on my second year as a badge holder at SXSW Interactive. Once again, I don’t really have a clear notion of my goals, other than to meet people, learn more about tech, blogging, and social media, and just be around talented, interesting, and occasionally self-important people. I’m sucking at the “meeting people” part so far, but being at the Austin Convention Center in a relatively festive atmosphere is a welcome reprieve from a week spent mediating between furniture deliveries, movers, and contactors. (Also, the purchase of a house with enough repair needs to quickly burn through most of our money, but let’s not go there just now.)
I took the Capital Metro rail for the first time, parking where I’m probably not supposed to park and riding the train to the final stop just outside the Convention Center. I don’t know if the train is usually that crowded, or if that is a SXSW effect, but it was a decent ride. It certainly beats trying to find parking downtown.
Since I don’t do much late-night partying anymore, I was able to arrive downtown at about 9:30, give or take, and it took a mere 5 minutes to get my badge. I remember last year needing about 20 minutes, but then seeing that the line had circumscribed the Convention Center later in the day. This would be an example of the hipness of being square – less time waiting in lines, or something.
I spent much of the morning catching up on work, and found the environment to be oddly conducive for work. Maybe there was some osmosis of creative power, or maybe I was just determined to finish so I could move on to fun things.
By the time I broke away from the siren call of legal-blogging-for-hire, I was not sure where I wanted to go. I considered catching a shuttle to a different venue for a panel on the business potential of animated GIFs, but ran into a friend who was going to a panel on disaster relief.
Disaster: The Future of Crisis Communications addressed how the Coast Guard has made use of social media and other technologies in disasters like Hurricanes Sandy and Irene. Very interesting stuff. Much of what they said seems obvious at first, but when you consider conditions after a disaster, you understand their importance, and how easy it might be to overlook them. In sufficiently serious crises, the very network we rely upon for information might be out of commission. How would we get information without our smartphones? Yes, many people still use things like radio or newspapers, but social media allows responders to get information out in, to use a cliché, real time.
Teaching Cheetahs: Disruptive Education in Africa was the only other panel I went to this day, partly because it sounded interesting, and partly because I didn’t have to change rooms. A group of panelists included two executives from a nonprofit that funds scholarships for top students from African to study at American universities, the founder of a Kenyan startup that provides tablets to students loaded with school curricula, and the director of an organziation that produces documentary videos highlighting educational needs. There was far more than I can justifiably summarize here, but the overall theme was “African solutions to African problems.” I just read an article the other day about well-intentioned but catastrophic efforts at aid to Africa, most of which amounted to dumping America’s leftovers in rural Africa rather than supporting infrastructure and education. It is also generally annoying that people in the U.S. often refer to “Africa” in a unitary sense, when in reality it is a continent with 54 countries (I think that’s the right number), about 1 billion people, and a wide diversity of culture, history, and language. It’s also more than twice the size of the U.S., so it’s big. Here are the organizations and companies represented, and I’d say they are worth checking out:
- African Leadership Academy in South Africa
- African Leadership Bridge in Austin, Texas
- The Nobelity Project, also in Austin
- eLimu, a startup based in Nairobi, Kenya
After that, I went home to assemble IKEA furniture.
Other highlights of the day included getting my picture taken in the Iron Throne…
…and also with Clifford the Big Red Dog…
There was also this odd display by 3M, which I call 3M’s 2D Hottie.