This is the second in the fellows' blog series about their experiences at SXSW. Read Dan's reflection below and learn about Jake's experiences here. Check back later this week to hear from Amanda and May!
With the chaos and abundance of activity that defines SXSW, it’s hard to avoid learning new things or meeting new people at all times. The opportunity to be actively engaged at all hours of the day led me to greatly enjoy SXSW. We heard throughout our time in Austin the comparison of SXSW to a “Disneyland for adults”, which I think is a fair assessment, however “Disneyland for the intellectually curious” is probably a better description of the Interactive portion.
This ubiquity of activity during SXSW Interactive is in part due to the many companies and organizations that rent out bars and transform them into exhibits or stages for their own content. Among the exhibits that I visited, American Greeting’s Analog House best encapsulates my time at SXSW and the engaging nature of much of the conference. Even my discovery of the exhibit reflects the random nature of SXSW: I arrived there by accident after wandering around in search of breakfast and gravitating towards a place that was playing good music.
As suggested by its name, the Analog House featured a variety of analog technologies such as Polaroid cameras, typewriters, and record players. After an immediate beeline towards the free coffee and scones, I took my time to explore the space and the gear on display. I was drawn to the typewriter both due to having never used one before and for the presence of one of the sponsors, who was guiding visitors through the technology. What I initially intended to be a short conversation and demo ended up in me spending a significant amount of time at the typewriter.
On my first attempt at the machine, I was struck by how much of a challenge it was to use. Without the ability to edit letters once on the page, the process of typing required each sentence to be entirely thought out in advance. This demand for intentionality felt altogether different from our modern ability to repeatedly revise letters and words through digital technologies. Even in writing this blog post, I repeatedly revised my words, with countless minor edits and multiple rewrites of certain blocks of text. From a user experience perspective, this added friction serves as a nostalgic reminder of what technology once was, however also evidences just how much the growth of digital has changed our behaviors.
The shift towards rapid iteration at the cost of intentionality is present in more than just writing. In business and innovation, these trends can be seen through the current popularity of Lean Startup, one of the core tenets of Health for America. In both writing and innovation, one can start out with merely a rough sketch of what to produce and through rapid iteration, develop a product that achieves a local maximum. While the shift to digital has empowered the modern individual, one wonders how the associated decline in directedness and intentionality affects design.
The irony in writing about the decline of intentionality after unintentionally discovering typewriters is not lost on me. Austin’s unofficial motto of “Keep Austin Weird” fits my experiences at SXSW and what I believe the festival has come to represent: a citywide celebration of music, film, and emerging technologies that blends the inspiringly innovative with the wonderfully weird.
Note: All of the beautiful photos are for this post were taken from Samantha Korenfeld at PBJS. Source article here.