It is so good to see the thousands of SXSW’ers in the streets of Austin. Austin, one of my favorite cities in the world. When COVID19 struck the city, in 2019, cancelling the convention, I could feel its pain. Bizarrely, and without noticing, that pain nestled deeper than I cared to admit. Being back in the Texan sun, has weaponed me with a bigger smile, more energy and a revived optimism. Being cut off flying, traveling, human beings, hugs, diners, long conversations, heated debates for 24 months taxed me a lot. Most of the people I’m meeting at SXSW have the same feeling. A feeling of liberation. Of setting the mind free. Of turning the COVID19 page.
The busy humming of conference-goers from around the world in the convention hall, in the streets, in front of the food trucks, in elevators en restaurants marks the return to a normalcy, a re-start. A launch.
Everybody is back. The keynotes are defiant, future-building, stern lessons are taken from the past. New trends are carving themselves out of the thick pack of keynotes: the great resignation. Purpose driven business models. Corporate value-sets. Employer branding. Hybrid working. Decentralized management structures. Renewed mobility. Honeycomb-structured consultancy. Accelerated digitization and automation. Artificial and deep-learning finally making a practical difference. The power of social connections, of ambassador-based influence, of quantum computing. The move towards platform-everything, towards API driven consolidations. The hunger for more, better, faster data. The craving for adequate data-analyses, real time visualization. Digital transformation. Augmented Humanity. The focus on experience, on participation, co-construction and groundswell. The need for clarity, honesty, sincerity, bravery, energy and a healthy touch of magic. The need to accelerate, with a build-in necessity to take the time to take time to reflect.
Everybody is back, but it is not a back to normal. It will never be. The ever-present typically SXSW pulsing is here. It is clear, personal, deep and profound. It celebrates digital, but it brings back a golden nugget: the mysterious power of in person gathering.
Austin’s South by Southwest has returned its Texas mega-conference covering tech, innovation, society, music and the wider culture to a leading and stellar level. Among the top innovative trends this year are the future of work, the future of democracy, the future of communications and media, climate change, Web3 , the decentralized web, freedom – of opinion and speech-, fake news, cybersecurity, crypto driven finances and art and -what else- the Metaverse.
SXSW’s 35th anniversary comes against a sobering reality of a pandemic entering its third year; a worrying intellectual, factual, economical and spiritual combative polarization and an aggressive conflict in the very heart of Eastern Europe. It brings, in pure Star Wars style “A New Hope”. Life is back, is live, and is more antagonistic than ever. Bruce Sterling voiced it so well: all the set-back makes us stronger, different, more resilient, more creative and more hopeful.
Meta’s Facebook and its iconic CEO Mark Zuckerberg were probably the most resented topics of SXSW. The liberal thinkers do not take the tremendous -negative- influence of the online influence gargantuan lightly. The powerful echo chambers, the fake news, the self-enriching logarithmic manipulations are more than frowned upon.
Mark Zuckerberg showed courage and brass balls by confronting the audience 14 years after his first -very hesitant- appearance at SXSW. He explained the how and why of the Metaverse and Web3. It is clear that Zuckerberg is looking to re-ignite and expand Meta -formerly known as Facebook- into a thorough acceleration into the mysterious worlds of augmented, virtual and reality.
For Zuckerberg, the “metaverse,” is “next generation of internet.” He sees it as another social platforms where people can meet for professional, personal and entertainment. The very set-up of the Metaverse will enable a plethora of experiences, centered around the immersive, even haptic nature of the platform.
He sees it as his leadership duty to double down on what he identified as the future of the multi-billion company rather than stick to todays reality. Metaverse is the extension of reality into the digital world. A world that is -let’s face it- any bit as real as the real world. We will need to rethink our sense of normalcy and reality. As a species, as an economy, as a society we became -accelerated by COVID19- truly hybrid, living in a dual world with challenging, new, but exciting dynamics.
“I think that at some level, the future sort of belongs to people who believe in it more than others,” he said. That rings a bell.
Typing this note, under the light of a mysterious moon, overlooking the soothing waters of Lake Travis, I have a smile on my face.
I am a believer.