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Digital Savant

Posted: 7:02 p.m. Sunday, March 9, 2014

The most SXSW thing ever: random thoughts from Interactive day 3 

Grumpy Cat watches all
The most SXSW Interactive thing we saw at SXSW Interactive so far this year.

By Omar L. Gallaga

I have to come to accept in all these years of covering South by Southwest Interactive that the weird and the random happens at the moment you let go and are ready to either give up or give in to the chaos around you.

That happened at around 10:05 p.m. Saturday night when I caught a ride on a bus, trying to find a way to get somewhere in the pouring rain and cold that had made downtown a miserable mess of puddles and hipster ennui.

Inside the bus was a karaoke party. Maybe 25 or 30 people jammed into a very tiny space, singing, drinking (a lot) and having a moving party that blocked out the world. Here's what some of the bus, designed by Lippincott, looked like:

I've seen a lot of insane things at SXSW Interactive, but the intense sense of dislocation I felt for the next two hours (could I have gotten off sooner? Probably? Did I? Of course not.) was so very strange. Nobody knew where the bus was going (some thought it was headed for San Marcos; the terror was palpable). The windows were blacked out and unless you checked your phone's GPS, it was impossible to know what was outside. I've never really experienced anything like it. Was the outside world just a dream we all once had? 

Other SXSW randomness:

  • Sunday seemed to be about Google Glass and wearables with a morning gathering of "Glassholes," those who wear the device at the Hyatt and lots of panels about body technology and fitness. The one I was able to attend in the a.m., "The Connected Body: Can We Get Value From Wearables?" asked all the right questions about the challenges facing fitness devices and beyond. They need to be fashionable, they need better battery life and they're pretty miserably designed for the most part in terms of their user interface, the panelists said. 
  • I'm still trying to figure out why so many people walked out so early of the Anne Wojcicki keynote presentation. Those who left early missed some very good questions from Re/Code's veteran tech reporter Kara Swisher that steered the keynote back from infomercial territory.
  • Stuff I'm hearing discussed the most: Austin's uncharacteristically lousy weather this weekend; why there's no breakout app or piece of hardware; who's giving away free food; how to get a ride from here to there (especially in the rain); love or hate of Internet-famous cats.
  • Had a very fun interview with George Takei who proved to be even more media savvy than I was expecting and a very smart thinker about social media and branding. These are usually incredibly boring things to talk about, but Takei's track record of supporting important causes and being, in general, a fine example of a kind and talented human being, made it a lot more palatable. He also sang to us (we'll post a video soon). "You've still got it!" I exclaimed when he finished his short seranade. He has a new YouTube show called "Takei's Take" that he's working on with AARP and a panel on Tuesday
  • Mini-trend of today: food like pizza delivered right to where you are because you Tweeted someone. 
  • Caught a very short amount of Jeffrey Tambor's annual acting workshop, enough to regret not being able to stay. What a fun part of the fest. I was amazed that there were a few seats left in Room 18ABCD.
  • Another trend: more librarians than usual at SXSW:

  • 3M had a tent across from the Convention Center with a Twitter-powered balloon that was supposed to pop and give someone $500. The very sad balloon was not nearly full when I saw it late afternoon Sunday and was going to be taken down in a little while. It was positioned too high up to see and was easy to miss. Interesting idea, terrible execution. Also, their list of top trends at the fest did not relate in any way to reality:

  • Made a quick pass through SXSW Gaming which continues to improve by appealing to families, by being completely free and by incorporating more than just video games themselves: cosplay (costumes), tabletop board gaming and geek culture in general that ties in with gaming. I wish I'd been able to spend more time there.
  • Still convinced that media convergence might be the stealth theme of the fest. Everybody's talking about Netflix, NBO and Hulu; a lot fewer people seem to be having serious conversations about Internet privacy. Maybe that'll happen Monday when Edward Snowden speaks.
  • Quirky is a company that crowdsources tech product designs. They had a very good idea in doing a live product rundown in cooperation with G.E. featuring Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Andy Samberg as guests. Though Nye was very entertaining and Samberg was dry and funny, the event got noisier and noisier because it was right next to a bar and as it went on, Samberg seemed less and less thrilled to be there. I had to leave early, but heard that a "Star Talk" recording with Jenny Slate and Eugene Mirman also suffered from too much noise and an overabundance of Quirky's presence.


    Omar L. Gallaga

    About Omar L. Gallaga

    Omar L. Gallaga writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. He was a technology correspondent for NPR's "All Things Considered," helping originate the All Tech Considered segment and blog.

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