Today was my first day at SXSW and to be honest for a while I didn’t know what to make of it. At first I was troubled because I’m used to conferences where you go to learn something to practice. “Learn how to better index your widget farm using Wammy 3.2″. And so on. At SXSW instead you have topics like Cargo Containers: The Next Big Social Network?, and Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion Dollar Cyber Crime Underground. During the first talks of the day I was restless and kept having the sense that I should be somewhere else, either learning to use something, or seeing something new which I would later want to learn to use.
But I had a bit of an epiphany mid-day, fortuitously early in my 5-day visit. SXSW is a gathering that is more than anything else about ideas, about the strategic not the tactical, about the forest not the trees. People really are here to discuss society-changing concepts, and there’s nothing corny or ironic about it. Of course you still have your fair share of puffery and aggrandizement, but there is plenty of wheat to separate from the chaff.
I suspect the effect of the ideas I take in here will take root not immediately but over the next few months. And it very well could be from one of the panels I least expect. Now that I see SXSW in the right light, I think I can relax and take in tomorrow’s events at ease.