Thoughts on SXSW (director’s cut)

Last week, I was fortunate to have an op/ed piece published on the Agency Spy blog. Understandably, it was edited for brevity and so I’m publishing a slightly longer post, my director’s cut if you will. I wanted to put it out there since it includes a shoutout to Ray Kurzweil whose keynote inspired a good deal of my piece. Cheers.

The annual SXSW Interactive conference is called many things – geekfest, spring break for nerds, networking lovefest. But with thousands of tech/startup/marketing folks packing the streets of Austin, there’s no doubt that at SXSW, we collectively crash into the future.

Futurist Amber Case presented the Keynote on Sunday and gave us a glimpse of that future we’re already beginning to live. She aptly boiled down the advancements in computer interfaces into the three properties of water – solid, liquid and air. Your thousand-button TV remote is a solid, a tiny nub for every function. Your contextual iPhone keyboard is liquid, adding or changing buttons to suit any task at hand. What’s to come is the invisible interface, one that is ambient and helpful based on the context of where and what you may be doing. Millions of us walk around with supercomputers in our pockets and bags. iPhones and Droids and Windows phones that know where you are, where your friends are, what time it is, what the weather is like, etc. With Case’s current project, Geoloqi, developers will be able to geofence just about anything, from shopping list reminders when you’re near the grocery to texting your family when you’re almost home from work.

The future of interfaces, the Internet of things, will communicate with you and with each other based on proximity and commonality. One app making a splash at this year’s conference is Highlight. The app uses data from your Facebook profile and in real time shows you who is not only close by but if you have mutual friends or shared interests. Already, a colleague noted that he “found” a friend he hasn’t talked to since junior high.

Brands will soon forge relationships around those serendipitous moments provided by apps like Highlight. Yeah, it’s creepy in a “Minority Report” kind of way. Done wrong, the damage to a brand’s reputation would be hard to repair.

Monday’s Keynote came from another futurist, the brilliant Ray Kurzweil. He noted that technology has always struggled with promise versus peril. Going all the way back to the invention of fire, Mankind had a choice of what to do with the gifts our brilliant minds dream up. As marketers, we also have a choice of how we use these new technologies for their promise, avoiding the perils of blindly pushing products without adding value.

As always, this year’s SXSW was a fantastic glimpse into the future. It will be fun to watch how we all return to the present day and bring a little bit of that future with us.