I’m going to follow the lead of the Airbag crew and mention publicly that, as per the decision I reached last March, I will not be attending SXSWi this year. I thought about posting to that effect a few months ago and decided against it—what, am I supposed to post about every conference I’m not attending? That doesn’t exactly scale.
But there really is something different about SXSWi. It’s the annual tribal gathering for our field and a couple of related fields, or at least is the annual tribal gathering who aren’t freaky/insane/hardcore enough to hit Burning Man. The default assumption is that you will be in Austin in March, which is actually a symptom of the conditions that led me to opt out this year.
I can sum up why I’m not going in just a few quick bullet points (and if you’re going to attend any panels, get very used to bullet points):
- I can’t concentrate above a certain noise level
- I don’t function well in large crowds
- I don’t drink alcohol
- I’m not single
There is a last selfish reason to go, which is to see a bunch of friends and acquaintances I don’t get to see other places. Only SXSWi has grown so incredibly huge that I didn’t really get to do even that last year. There were people who were there the whole time I was that I never saw, like Matt. I don’t mean that I didn’t have enough time to talk with them, either. I mean that at no point did photons scattered by their bodies land on either of my retinas.
Don’t get me wrong: SXSWi is a huge buzz. You can get a geek high just standing around soaking up the ambient energy, and you never know who you’re going to run into. I once shared a cab with Cory Doctorow and Lisa Rein without, I think, any of us really knowing who the others were until halfway through the trip. The opportunities to meet and greet and get to know people of every kind are just incredible. Like I said, it’s a tribal gathering.
So there is of course a part of me that’s sad I won’t be there, because the great thing about SXSWi is the people, both those I know and those I don’t know yet. There’s a much bigger part of me, though, that’s glad I’ll be spending those five days at home with my family instead of feeling frustrated and lonely in a crowd notably bigger than the town where I grew up.
Anyway, if you’re going and especially if you’re going for the first time, I urge you to pay special attention to the wisdom of Mr. Bag:
Want to meet that OMG OMG OMG blog A-lister?! Fine, just go do it. Nobody, and I mean nobody in this industry is so huge that they can’t be bothered to say hello and shake your hand. And that’s it, done.
To which I’d only say “that OMG OMG OMG blog A-lister” should be replaced with “anyone who interests you”. Blog A-lister, design rockstar, code guru, startup maven, whoever. Just go up and say hi and spend a few minutes chatting. It’s totally cool. In fact, it’s kind of the point.