Sitting in a packed auditorium at #SXSW while listening to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Skyping in from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was profoundly humbling. We’re living in an age unlike any other. We are advancing human ability and connectivity on a daily basis. More often than not, we make tremendous strides by the hour. What is happening because of the marriage between people and technology is changing the face of how we live and the way we see the future. But it’s being mocked. By whom I can’t really put my finger on.
All too often we’re looking for the demise of a hero. It’s some real Batman type vitriol that we combat on a daily basis. We’re rooting for the fall of everything that a force of good is trying to accomplish. Human nature can be a real bastard of change, and not the kind we’re all clamoring for on the regular. The dichotomy of wanting the ideal versus knocking it over every chance we get is exceptionally frustrating.
Conference after conference, article upon article, I keep reading about the response to those who claim SXSW has “jumped the shark” and that it’s relevancy is questionable to the larger scales of digital progression. It’s ability to grow and to include the “every man” is being laughed at, discounted and marginalized by… Uhm… I don’t know who.
If you Google “SXSW jumped the shark” the only thing that pops up are responses to this supposed mumble grumble of angry attendees who feel sponsorship and celebrity have overtaken what was once a small community of artists. It’s like people got together and decided to manifest an issue if for no other reason than to write blogs about it. *ahem* Thanks?
Admittedly, I’ve never been cool. I’ve never made it a goal. I’m an observer at best and a judgmental prick at worst, but when and if something actually has “jumped the shark” I don’t still partake whilst mocking it. I simply leave. Casting aspersions on the success or failure of something you once loved serves no one. What exactly is the upside to dissuading someone from an experience that many still love? Are you saving the tortured artist who would have come here? The person that wanted to come and be sad about others not paying it enough attention? “Hey man, I know you wanted to get your Kurt Cobain circa 1988 on, but it’s really more Cobain ’93 down there. I wouldn’t go.” Okay… Have at that.
Granted, I’m a gold badge. Which means the music portion of the festival means nothing to me. So you music folks might really benefit from hearing something like the above. However, if you’re coming for Interactive or Film, you’d be an idiot to listen to someone saying “it’s over.” That person has either never been here or is a lemming. They’re human spam, cashing in on a trendy idea that might get them a bit of attention. Their personal brand isn’t trustworthy or monetized enough to properly vet an intrinsic value like collaboration or building your network.
Notice that I did not say “networking,” but rather “building your network.” It is the people that come here to “network” that are supposedly “over it” and believe it to be unworthy of their precious time. You know what else seems to be beneath them? Sharing ideas. They’re more than willing to toss out irresponsible opinions and defacto judgements, but actual ideas, progressive thoughts that either solve problems or advance a conversation aren’t what you’re going to get from them. And that’s dangerous.
If those are the kind of people that you have in your circle, on your Twitter feed, in your ear buds or on your TV, vacate all channels immediately. You’re ingesting spam. You are not an active participant in your own thought process. You are being informed by the judgments and criticisms of others. Go be an active member of what interests you rather than waiting for someone to tell you what you’re interested in. While that may seem like a simple thought, very few actually embrace it – truly embrace it. You know who is? Almost anyone who is at SXSW right now.
Some of the greatest minds in art, technology, social justice, entrepreneurship and international commerce are here and sharing their real world, applicable experience with us. They’re trading war stories and encouragements with the rest of us on the ground. Dismissing the people of this conference and lumping the whole of what’s being offered into one simple pop culture phenomenon is wildly irresponsible and more pretentious than what they’re accusing SXSW of being.
If nothing else, I’m not sure how anyone can be critical of a large scale event where small pods of people are talking about how to better the world while eating some damn good BBQ. Honestly, if anyone is actually criticizing this thing and claiming that it’s jumped the shark, maybe it’s time to just calm down, eat a rib and grab a drink. Look around and realize that what’s happening is bigger than your momentary disapproval. And then do something positive. You’re surrounded by people eager to hear ideas. Opinions hold far less weight than ideas.