This blog was first published on austin.ipa.co.uk
Let me start by saying my Monday has unfortunately not been a ‘win’ as far as SXSW days go. Whether it was due to failing technology (side note: c’mon SXSW, it’s a tech conference!), discussions that didn’t quite live up to their expertly copywritten titles, or mistiming sprints over to the ACC, I could’ve probably played today better.
The silver lining, however, has been the time I’ve had to reflect on feeling present at SXSW.
Queues As a SXSW first-timer, I’ve quickly learned that there is a unique and specific hatred for queues that develops here. They waste time. Their amoebic nature means that for people rushing to the next talk, they are constantly in the way. And they’re chaotic (how many times have you been approached by someone trying to figure out what exactly you are waiting for?).
But, at a conference where my fractured attention is at all all-time high, I’ve actually welcomed the enforced standstill. It’s forced me to focus on my surroundings – most notably, the incredible people around me. And that’s when, on Sunday morning, I met a woman in the queue for textile innovation. Our chat began organically enough (who doesn’t love a quick rant about a long queue) but our conversation quickly turned to work/life balance, traveling the world, her hopes and worries for cultivating her team, and what I want to be when I ‘grow up’. Our easy rapport and connection got me hoping after a mere five minutes that this woman might agree to be a mentor to me in the future, once we were settled back in our respective lives (hers at an innovation lab in Philadelphia; mine in media in London).
The queues here are admittedly annoying. But they kill the rush and give birth to interesting opportunities.
Virtual reality Tom Dunn and I just left a fantastic session on 3D production and immersive technologies that centred primarily on the challenges and opportunities for virtual reality now and in the future. Of all the points made, what resonated most was that VR helps us to create presence in a world of high-tech sensory overload. Tools like Oculus confine us to the here and now – and allow us to experience it fully in hyper-reality. So unlike the rest of the tech running our lives – our phones, our feeds – VR provides the renewed opportunity to confine us (literally and figuratively) to a moment that we can fully enjoy.
With the trending narrative around digital, social and all tech things bright and shiny focussed around how it’s destroying our minds, attention span, and relationships (a porn talk today reminded that the majority of teens’ first experiences with sex are now digital), it was refreshing to hear that our quest for sensorial innovation might help us take back the present.
This blog was first published on austin.ipa.co.uk
The theme from yesterday was about the need for technology to take a back seat and allow utility and purpose to take over. Today, my sessions had a much more positive view on the ways in which technology can make the world better.
The trials of making jewellery that is infused with ‘useful’ tech but looks fashionable paled into insignificance during a talk by Dr. Hugh Herr from The Center for Extreme Bionics. Called “The End of Disability”, the session covered the amazing developments in prosthetics, and how his team are creating ‘thinking limbs’, that measure and adapt to various factors to provide wearers with a normal (enhanced, even) existence. A double amputee himself, it was an intensely personal and inspiring story. After being told by his doctor he wouldn’t be able to ride a bike, drive a car, let alone go back to mountain-climbing, he showed photos of himself halfway up vertical cliff-face, within 12 months of his operation with his new ‘hackable’ limbs.
"At the beginning of the year society called me crippled. In twelve months I was achieving things I had never done before." For an organisation whose motto is ‘Advancing Technology for Humanity’ I’d suggest fashion isn’t high on the agenda.
On a similarly positive note about technology, a collection of speakers from the world of film-making, theatre and art spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities in Virtual Reality, and their role. The hypothesis was that we have, in technology, a new and powerful tool but we don’t yet have the language. But maybe the wrong people have been in charge, and instead of being at odds with the tech world, it could be the artists who define the language of using these new technologies. Succinctly summed up by Anagram (a theatre duo from Bristol) saying that VR “could draw from hundreds of years of theatrical tricks, and not just look like a crappy cardboard box on your face because that’s what Google tells you.”
I agree. But then it’s difficult not to agree with someone who’s just made you sit on the floor and put a blindfold on.
This post was originally posted on austin.ipa.co.uk
I know if you are back in London #SXSW can be a little annoying! Smug tweets about #free-beer, #Ryangosling, #Taco-truck can make it feel like Disneyland for ad-people! But the problem is it is truly such an awesome experience, that you are just blown away and want to share it with everyone.! And in that vein I want to share my first day #sport, # Space # Sun#Sport: Being the least sporty person on the planet, choosing to spend an hour listening to the National Soccer League could have been an odd choice. But this year at SXSW, Sport seems to be a big subject, and soccer(!) is a massively growing sport in the USA with a real considered strategy for growth.
They have deliberately focused on attracting and servicing millennials, using technology, social and data at the start of their journey rather than trying to fit it into an already established organisation, and proving that it doesn’t just create a good fan base – football crowds self-police bad behaviour – hello FA?, but also saves money from the bottom line.
#Space: The next talk was from Dom Pettit, a real life astronaut who has spent 370 days in orbit!.
He has single-handedly doubled the number of photos taken from space from 500k to 1 million after a single mission! It was a truly inspiring talk based around the photos he has taken, and while not directly related to comms threw up some surprising inspiration quotes that are applicable to comms.
“Frontiers are places where experiences in life at home don’t apply”
“The concept of been-there, done-that should not apply. Take a different angle on something everyone has seen before and you will find something amazing”
“When you look at earth from space – the distance allows you to see beautiful detail you can’t see when close up”
#Sunshine: It’s sunny, it’s warm, it’s beautiful!
It was the MLS talk, however – easily the most ‘random’ choice of my day – that left the biggest impression on me. In an era of high-produced sport experiences, Major League Soccer wins thanks to deeply authentic fan engagement centred around a game that doesn’t lose out to fractured attention spans. As a relatively small player in the US sport scene, soccer and MLS have thrown down the gauntlet in sport with a David marketing mentality in an industry of Goliaths.
From day one, MLS has committed to giving fans a disproportionate amount of the spotlight – not just because it’s good marketing, but because they care about doing so. They make fans the stars of their social media presence. They happily give fans license to run local club initiatives. They invite fans to call the shots when it comes to their own soccer experience while carefully observing how technology, both in and out of the stadium, can improve on the experience fans want – and because of it, fans become die-hard and stay die-hard.
It’s this simply interest, and delivery upon, an interest in making fans feel like part of the brand that’s caught the NFLs of this world off-guard and has seen sport organisations of all kinds looking to MLS as the gold standard for galvanising their audience.
Coupled with the nature of soccer (shorter and faster-paced) and the ‘romantic nuance’ of the game (as one panellist put it) that draws fans in, MLS is slowly but surely converting Goliath sport fans to David supporters. And for a nation defined until now by the likes of football and baseball, that’s pretty major stuff.