“How do you like SXSW so far? What have you found most interesting?” The four of us sit on a comfortable blue couch outside of the WeDC house, speaking to Evan Burfield, CEO of 1776.
It’s hard to capture precisely what SXSW is in a nutshell. A flurry of colors, thought leaders, tech giants and startups standing shoulder-to-shoulder, film and music artists scattered across dozens of venues throughout Austin, and never-ending crowds of badge-clad SXSW attendees, tagged by the color of their lanyards as film enthusiasts, music lovers, and entrepreneurs here to learn about innovation in tech, health, and society.
I feel giddy to be amidst so much excitement and opportunity for learning and discovery. Reflecting on the time we spent at SXSW, the sheer volume of experience and impressions can be boiled down into 3 themes for me: (1) the continued growing presence of mindfulness in our modern Western culture, (2) the serendipity of connections, and (3) interesting applications of tech to spaces that I feel passionate about.
Notice your breath
From the screening of Walk With Me – a documentary following the daily life of monastics living and practicing in the tradition of revered Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh – to a “zen den” space created for the purpose of extricating oneself from the overwhelming sensory/information overload of SXSW, I noticed a strong mindfulness presence in Austin. At the trade show, two companies in particular caught my attention: StillGoing and MomentMeditation. The first seeks to connect both new and seasoned meditators with a personal coach in one-on-one virtual real-time, video-based guided meditation sessions. I tried this out and felt a powerful calm amidst the bustle of thousands. MomentMeditation likewise sought to teach meditation, using a tech-based approach that incorporated wearables and biofeedback sensors that guide someone in their practice.
Shortly before we left for Austin, I attended empathy education pioneer Dr. Helen Riess’s talk on cultivating empathy in medical students and physicians, in which she spoke about a study which found that sympathetic nervous system activation – measured by wearable sweat sensors – could gauge how empathetic a healthcare provider was towards his or her patient. At the conference, I serendipitously met two individuals who were developing a wearable sweat sensor, and I was able to connect them to what might be a potentially interesting application of their technology. This seemed to capture the essence of SXSW: a place of convergence between spheres that typically don’t intersect.
Tech’s growing web
Unsurprisingly, tech was huge at SXSW. In addition to the applications of wearables and tele-instruction for meditation, among my favorites were a meetup discussing the role of tech in empowering creativity for travel writers, and the applications of tech to grapple with mental health, access disparities, and stigma. In one word: eye-opening!
Read King's reflection on SXSW here, and keep your eye on the blog for more reflections on SXSW!