It’s just over two weeks since the mad, visceral, and immersive experience that is “Southby” came to a close.

Rather than write about interesting trends as they emerged, I thought I’d take time and take stock first. Because I wanted to reflect on the things that have stuck with me rather than things that hit me in the moment.

The remembering self, rather than the experiencing self, as Kahneman puts it. So here are four key, yet disparate personal recollections – united in helping me view the world in a slightly different way.


One: It doesn’t ever get easier to make stuff really, really good.

Obvious perhaps, but startling when framed by luminaries such as Ira Glass:

“Doing any kind of creative work is so frustrating…everything you make is trying to be mediocre and it’s only an act of will that you prop up every part so it then gets to be good.”

He works 70 hours each week to create a single 1 hour show for This American Life. 70 hours.

He’s the darling of the podcast/radio world, yet he crams two working weeks into every week to create each show. That’s both refreshing and reassuring to hear.


Two: Try not to see the world in black and white.

President Obama spoke intelligently and honestly about the topic of encryption in the wake of the FBI vs. Apple. Perhaps the most powerful sentence he said was:

“Be wary of the absolutist view.”

His authenticity was utterly compelling. He didn’t claim to have answers. He didn’t pretend to know what he was talking about technically. He simply stated that either end of the argument didn’t sit right with him; that there had to be a compromise that could be found. And what made the viewing so compelling was his ability to see both sides.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Be wary of the absolutist view. Strong words Mr. President.


Three: Unexpected behaviours and outcomes can be as fascinating as they are surprising

Of course there were lots of talks about Social – from buzz about new apps (KnowMe, Squad & Tribe to name but three darlings of the week), to what established platforms are planning next. But what stayed with me more was the thoughts sparked by a talk about a bi-product of Social.

A talk about how all these platforms designed to help people connect are impacting people dealing with the opposite: loss. From death anniversaries on Facebook, to tech start ups trying to create virtual immortality, we are fundamentally changing our relationship with death. And that change came about really as an accident, rather than through deliberate design: through customer use of platforms, rather than pre-defined intentions.

Yes, what’s happening is messy. It’s both helping and hindering; it’s both sinister and innocent. But either way, this unintended consequence of Social is utterly profound.


Four: It’s about People and Tech, not Tech People.

My outsider’s perception of SXSW was that it was a week of geek heaven. New apps, platforms, technologies, realities. And NASA, obviously. What has stayed with me, however, has been how much focus there was on the ‘softer’ stuff.

Less ‘how stuff works’, more ‘how we work’.

This year’s winner of the ‘Speak Of The Event’ (aka ‘The Most Amazing Session At SXSW Interactive’) was Brené Brown for her ‘Daring Greatly’ keynote on embracing vulnerability. For me, that was the perfect example of how my assumptions were challenged and proven to be way wide of the mark.

Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, made an interesting observation in his keynote on the final day:

“We’ve gone through a little stretch of where we’ve not really known how to use technology well. There’s been a lot of technology for technology’s sake.”

My lasting memory of SXSW2016, however, is that the ‘little stretch’ Andy talked about isn’t the main focus in the tech world anymore.

Instead, the focus is on us. So SXSW: no mere tech-fest, but a festival about people. And a brilliant one at that.

James Stevens

About James Stevens

Bearded, (mainly) bespectacled, brogue-wearing Strategy Director. Loves podcasts, poodles, sports and socks.

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