Never talk to strangers? F@&!% that, this is #SXSW

I’ve got my mophie charged, my most comfortable walking shoes broken in, my hotel was booked last August. My live blogging bookmarks are all assembled on the Macbook, the scheduling app is on the iPad and I’m sharing my calendar with folks on the site. Got a stack of business cards for the 1870s retro crowd and Bump, Evernote Hello, Sonar, and Highlight loaded on the iPhone. I’m putting exclusive airplay and heavy rotation on Do512’s Bands-that-will-be-there playlist. I haven’t yet cut back my schedule to the realistic but what are plane flights for?

I’m ready for the marathon learning circus and creative geek-out which is South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

I’ve been going since 2006, and watched the conference sprawl out. It used to fit in the Austin Convention Centre. Now Austin itself is barely big enough to contain it. I’m not a backwards looking “Good old days” kinda guy, though I do miss being able to just rock up next to Jason Kottke and share a chat because he’s sitting on the floor in the hall sucking power into his laptop. These days, the crowds are so large that most of the digiratti hang out in the VIP and panelist lounges. 

But there’s something of the old Southby that I refuse to surrender to the forces of Bigger Better Faster More, and continue to fight for. Too few people make time for the induction and orientation session and miss a key message: slough off the social prohibitions on talking to people. Don’t hang with your known posse — you can learn from them any time. Talk to people in the queues (there will be lots of those), quiz them on what they’ve seen, ask their favorite panel, pry, connect. By right of your badge, you have permission to talk to anyone you damn please, and you grant that permission to all who are there. It’s more powerful than being audience cattle, no matter how great that keynote may be. How the hive mind processes new thinking, churns over ideas, gnaws at things and pontificates over 5 dollar Cappucinos is what Southby is REALLY about. 

One of my colleagues will be attending for the first time this year, and along with the standard advice - it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Don’t miss the Bacon Bloody Mary at Franks’! (Not with PETA colleagues, however) Bring a power strip to share! – I recommended The SXSW Newbie Meetup with Sweet John Muelbauer. Even if you’re an old hand, in fact ESPECIALLY if you’re an old hand, go and share the gospel of talk to strangers. 

It’s part of what (still) makes SXSW a community rather than just a conference. 

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