SXSW 2021 Austin: here I come!

I has a sad.  For the very first time in sixteen years I will not be spending my favorite two weeks of the year in Austin, Texas. Last year, braving hell, doom, lock-down, airspace closures, toilet paper shortage, Trump tantrums and a little bandit called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, I hopped to SXSW 2020. I found it with the doors locked, the festival cancelled, the town in shock, and a couple of thousand innovation die-hards stranded.

12 months, a new president, two lock-downs and three quarantines later, I am once again packing my bags. Not to go to Austin -sometimes I need to use the little sense that is left in me-, but I will be going to SXSW 2021. I’ll be spending the next week in an innovation bubble, away from the world, on US time, following as much of SXSW as I can. My micro-brewed beer is cooling, the  White Russians are ready, and some BBQ baby-racks are slowly getting smoked to perfection. SXSW? You need to taste it Texan Style.

If you cannot join it: beat it

If I cannot roam the Austin Convention Center, hang out in the Techset Lounge, and watch the turtles at the County Line, I will settle for the next best thing: VR. SXSW is revealing an XR world for SXSW 2021: an online virtual event, but on steroids.  They’ve recreated the speakers venues, hang-out stages and every downtown Austin landmark from Congress Avenue to Red River Street in virtual reality. Because, well, SXSW… and keeping Austin weird.

Austin 360 reports that SXSW worked with artists and XR companies to recreate the best parts of town, including the Paramount Theatre, the Contemporary Austin, Mohawk, Empire Control Room & Garage and Cedar Street Courtyard as virtual spaces.  Inside these XR (extended reality: covering virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality)- spaces, SXSW 2021 attendees will be able to attend live panels, keynotes, enjoy meet-ups and special events. On top, virtual cinema programming and 2-D video feeds of all of the SXSW programming can be watched. SXSW’s XR experience runs on VRChat and is available via PC, PCVR and Oculus Quest headsets.

Ready for the future?

This years festival is roughly build on 7 tracks which are specifically focused on this unique moment in history and a glimpse into what the future could look like” says congress boss Hugh Forrest. The #SXSW2021 chronicles give us a little more information (summarized here below):

2020 has amplified issues like racial injustice, poverty, nationalism, and the climate crisis amidst a global pandemic. The future depends on the business, non-profit, government, science, and technology communities all working together. What advancements are needed to create immediate and lasting progress?

If we are to achieve real change as a society, then the many ways in which the tech industry impacts our lives must be leveraged as a positive force. To build a better tomorrow, what lessons can an industry integral to our existence learn from its current failings?

Great art often thrives in times of turmoil and chaos. How will the eruption of creativity we are currently seeing across music, film, experiential, written, and visual arts impact our culture for the next decade and beyond?

From start-ups to small companies to major corporations, capitalism must be examined as we look to rebuild the global economy. A potential levelling of the playing field awaits if we seize this opportunity for more equitable systems across race, gender, and class.

Conventional wisdom from entertainment industries has lost its shine in the face of evolving consumer habits, technological advancements, and an increased focus on social issues. These pressures are forcing a much needed metamorphosis. What lessons can music, film, television, sports, and gaming learn to keep up with an ever-accelerating pace of change?

We’re living lives we never could have imagined as we head into our own brave new world. The consequences of social isolation have been brewing for years. Now online platforms are some of the only outlets available to foster a sense of community. How do we return to a world where individual concerns give way to embracing the value of humanity?

Biohacking, consumer space travel, quantum physics, radical life extension, drone delivery — these concepts that once belonged in science fiction are now part of our immediate future. What mind-blowing new ideas will inspire the next generation of innovators?

Brain candy

In addition to Willie Nelson, George W. Bush, Pete Buttigieg, and Ava DuVernay I’ll be able to listen to Emmy Award-winning host Samantha Bee; founder and Chief Executive Officer of Streamlytics, Angela Benton; Entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson; Cannabis rights activist Steve DeAngelo; Entrepreneur, author and academic Joost van Dreunen; Co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space Tim Ellis; Academy Award-winning actor, author, producer, director and philanthropist Matthew McConaughey; Square co-founder Jim McKelvey; Mathematician, data scientist and author Cathy O’Neil; Comedian, writer and How to Citizen podcast host Baratunde Thurston; Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) Dr. Michael Watkins; Quantitative futurist, author and founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute Amy Webb; and Elizabeth Banks, Mary J. Blige, Erin Lee Carr, James Cameron, Mark Cuban, Dominique Crenn, Cynthia Erivo, Mick Fleetwood, Melinda Gates, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bill Hader, Taraji P. Henson, Barry Jenkins, Mark Mothersbaugh, Desus Nice and the Kid Mero, Indra Nooyi, Amber Ruffin, The Russo Brothers, Werner Vogels, Chris Webber, and many many others.

Nothing better than some neuron-heating discussions and mind-popping content to bury a COVID infested year. SXSW, I missed you. My brain is ready.

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