SXSW Day 1 - Where does interactive start and finish?

So I've decided to sit and write up my notes having kind of given up on today after three failed attempts to get into interesting, but oversubscribed, presentations. I'm in a quiet corner of the enormous Austin Convention Centre, tapping away on my tablet while a queue of SXSWers snake past.

So I've decided to sit and write up my notes having kind of given up on today after three failed attempts to get into interesting, but oversubscribed, presentations.

I'm in a quiet corner of the enormous Austin Convention Centre, tapping away on my tablet while a queue of SXSWers snake past.

The last talk I attended was the keynote for today. Austin Kleon, a writer who draws, was asking the question of whether SXSW was too big. Right now I'm wondering if this could really be the case.

Big is not a bad thing per se. It's successful. It draws the really great speakers from the field and so on. But big can also mean unwieldy - unmanageable and unfathomable.

It's only a small segment of the tens of thousands of people who have flooded into Austin looking for the next big thing that are lined up in front of me. But they look more like addicts than pioneers. Every single one of them staring at, and gently thumb-stroking, their smartphones. They’re not just hipsters - to my untrained (but really judgemental) eye - they look like artists, educators, government and health workers, they range from the very young to the very old. These aren't the usual app/game/website developers and entrepreneurs.

It's not the event that's become too big to manage, it's the tech sector. And it's not too big, it's bloody huge - it has matured. The crowds have grown as the tech disruption tidal wave has swept over industry after industry. Washing them up on the shores of the Colorado River.

The first presentation this morning featured Eric Schmidt and Jared Coen from Google. They talked about their new book that describes, and attempts to define, the new digital age in which we live. They touched on the importance of data privacy - a highly politicised issue when you're talking about one private company holding more data than many governments and lobbying to restrict access to it. It's a complicated question and whatever you think the answer is, one thing is for sure, it's not something that one web search business should be defining. But can you trust the government to make a better decision?

When you have questions like this floating around, it's clear that the tech sector is no longer really a sector. It is all our lives. It's no longer just a question of what the coolest new app is, it's a question of whether we're building a better world for our kids to live in? And are we equipping them to do this properly?

So maybe SXSW isn't too big at all. Maybe it's the scope - Interactive - that's too broad.

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If you want to hear what other people had to say check out the hashtags for the talks I attended:

  • The New Digital Age, Eric Schmidt and Jared Coen - #NewDigAge
  • Show Your Work, Austin Kleon - #showurwork

Follow James @jamesjefferson