I will be the first to admit that there are many, many things that happen at, around, before and after SXSW Interactive that make me roll my eyes so hard I get a headache.
I will also be the first to admit that the crowds get utterly overwhelming and there are times there are so many people waiting in line for something that I simply don’t even bother checking to see what it is (except for my Mr. Robot T-shirt, totally worth it).
South by Southwest is an orgy of media and marketing and “influencers” and people acting like this is the most important thing in the world and “Aren’t we special and important because we’re here and look, I have 12 wristbands for parties I’ve been to, and it’s only the second day!”
Yet I still go, and plan to keep going for the foreseeable future.
The reason why is rather simple: The people. No, not those people I mentioned above. I’m talking about the friends of mine who live in Austin, who travel to SXSW for their jobs, and who go for the same reason I do. In a period of five days, I get to have quality facetime with many, many friends I never get to see the rest of the year. I get to meet people in real life whom I’ve known online for years, sometimes, and really get to know them and be able to call them friends.
Yeah, they call it “Spring Break for Nerds” and I’ve seen articles declaring the death of SXSW every year since before I started attending in 2010. In some ways they’re right. The first couple of years, I attended many panels. As the years went on, I began to attend just those panels that friends of mine were on – as well as the Ain’t It Cool News panel, because that was awesome.
You go a few years, you start getting better party invites, so the lines were less, and the events more intimate. The conversations I have with people are more in-depth and more personal. We don’t stand around talking about social media and ways to market crap people don’t need. We spend real, honest time with one another.
What makes SXSW so good for that is scale – so many people from all over, and I always get to meet at least one or two new people who are really awesome. So many of the people I know in one place at one time makes it a lot easier to catch up.
It’s amazing how you can find your small, quiet places in such a loud, overcrowded place.