SXSW: A user’s experience

I just returned from the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, and it was quite an experience. As you can see from the photo above that I took at 3.45am on the final morning, the event was packed with people and energy. Last year was my first time there and I have to say that the experience was even better and more intense this year.

In terms of technology, API’s, geo-apps, augmented reality, and gaming in all its forms dominated the week. Overarching this technology was a theme of doing social good that also benefits the bottom line. This blend of social technology and social change is my prediction as to what will dominate the event next year.

But if there was one gesture exhibited by almost every attendee that portends the future, it was the week-long, eye-lock with a smart phone in almost every person’s hand. For the entire five days, streams of people strode the corridors as if tethered to their phones. Glowing like crystal balls and bristling with the latest text, tweet or status update about what was going on, where their friends were or what they needed to know, it seemed as if the answers that everyone was looking for were locked inside these little Black Boxes.

Some will see this as a sad sight but it is also a window to the future. This army of digital ambassadors has already made the transition from desktop to mobile seamlessly sharing their lives, relationships, news, and creativity through portals the size of their palms.

This shift has a two-fold effect. Not only does it accelerate the rate of information exchange but it also alters the way people relate to each other. It was commonplace to see four people huddled in a group with the appearance of a “conversation” only to discover each person was locked in a simultaneous dialogue with someone else at the other end of their phone.

Does this make us less present? Less caring? In fact, less connected? (No doubt many would call it rude.) Yet I would argue the opposite. This technology allows us to connect in multiple ways in real time across multiple platforms weaving an ever-denser network of connectivity between friends, family and colleagues.

I believe this connectivity is rapidly re-stitching the web of relationships in the real world around shared values directed towards the benefit of all. That’s because social technology is built on relationships with people you care about within a framework of community.

As such the mobile is my weapon of choice with which to reshape the future and distance ourselves from self-destructive “Me First” behavior and thinking of the past. If it comes at the cost of some eye contact, it’s a small price to pay when you consider what people – citizens, consumers, technologists, social entrepreneurs, non-profits, government agencies, brands and CEO’s – can achieve when they set their minds on their well being of others and themselves.

Do you believe that mobile technology will effect our lives in a positive or negative way and why?