SXSW 2022 trending topics through a lens of pragmatic optimism
The nuggets of insight and goodness that have the opportunity to become foundational in the coming decade
Holy crap: SXSW actually happened. In fact, it’s still happening. And it’s a lot to process — both for those of us who attended and for everyone else reading reports from the conference this year.
As the first major event to be postponed as we entered the March 2020 lockdown, South by Southwest had a lot of pressure for its IRL return in 2022. As I noted last week, I’ve attended this event for 14 years, have spoken multiple times, led brand activations, sit on the advisory board, and I credit it with significantly changing my career trajectory for the better.
As part of my advisory role, I was reviewing submissions for this year’s conference all the way back in October 2021 (remember how last fall we weren’t sure when things may open up again?) and personally struggled with selecting and structuring programming I thought could work in-person, online, and both. So I was thrilled to board a plane to Austin, TX with my vax card in hand, a mask on my face, and a pocket full of business cards to hand to real-life people I could meet IN PERSON.
And the event happened! Tens of thousands of people descended on Texas to learn about trending topics of our era, and more importantly, explore ways to help shape our future together, debate the future, and take a good look at the fractured state of our culture and discern technology’s culpability.
SXSW has always been a place for early adopters to test out emerging technology and social behavior before it reaches mass adoption. The event, venue, and participants create the perfect recipe for a real-world test of software meeting culture AND the opportunity to help shape, direct, and repurpose original intent into realistic market need and utility.
Famous examples include: when Twitter launched and introduced us to the concept of a digital backchannel (tweet walls before hashtags?!), when Foursquare and Gowalla introduced us to the idea of geolocation as social context (“You can be the Mayor!”), when Meerkat introduced us to the idea of live mobile social (“Hey, I’m live on the internet RIGHT NOW”), Tumblr and Vine redefined UGC content strategy (RIP Vine), and Timehop introduced us to the idea of reviewing your digital breadcrumbs to give context to your life today (most major platforms offer this now).
Those first blush technologies weren’t fully formed or adopted when they came to SXSW. The festival’s community helped the roots of each idea’s creativity take hold, while the culture and practical challenges ground down the edges and pushed back what wasn’t valuable from each. Being “the mayor” of your local coffee shop may be meaningless today, but geolocation is baked into all social and many apps. Meerkat no longer exists, but “going live” is a key function of most major platforms. Vine is gone, but looping video is standard on social today.
So when you read about the buzzy things at SXSW 2022, don’t focus directly on linear launch→adoption→success. Do be hyper aware and critical of the practicalities and the negatives and weigh them carefully. Do focus on the nuggets of insight in each concept that may have legs into becoming something that could be foundational in the coming decade. Do push through the illusion and despair and try to picture each trend through a lens of pragmatic optimism.
What I love about the SXSW community of visionaries, pioneers, and dreamers is we get to look into the future, learn from and grow from the negative, and shape what’s coming next together. And to help guide it. Reboot it. Rethink it.
Reinvention is what the SXSW community is all about.
Key themes I observed in my time at SXSW 2022 include: Web3 (including the metaverse, AR/VR, NFTs, crypto), future of social, post-pandemic purchase habits, the future of content, humane technology, privacy, space tourism, LGBTQIA and transgender youth rights, racism and equality, hybrid work, and the digital afterlife.
I’ll have more to share with TSL clients soon, including key insights from the SXSW community and how that community accepted, pushed back, and shaped the trends of this year. But most of all, I’m grateful for the vaccines and SXSW leadership, sponsors, attendees and Austinites who made the event possible.
And I’m optimistic about our collective future and how we’ll work to get there. Here’s to 2023! -Greg
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🔥 Quick Hits of the Week
Insta’s Adam Mosseri says hashtags don’t help views on the platform.
Mark Zuckerberg confirms NFTs are coming to Instagram.
Adobe stakes its claim in the metaverse with AR/VR tools.
Holoride’s in-car VR tech is coming to Audi this summer.
Google is experimenting with ways to serve short-form videos in search results more often.
Pavement's deep cut-turned-hit "Harness Your Hopes" gets a music video thanks to TikTok trends.
Bored Ape Yacht Club creates a cryptocurrency to fund games, events, and merch.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is using social media and Telegram, media partnerships (e.g., attn, The Atlantic), and PR to share a bully pulpit message to the soldiers and people of a country at war to permeate ideas through blocked or controlled channels. Paradigm shift!
Thanks to AR, navigating cities and airports could soon be like playing Mario Kart.
Stepan the internet-famous cat escaped Ukraine.
See you on the internet!
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