South Bypass

Published 16 years, 3 months past

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.

Comments (16)

  1. Just go up and say hi and spend a few minutes chatting. It”s totally cool. In fact, it”s kind of the point.


  2. Just go up and say hi and spend a few minutes chatting. It”s totally cool. In fact, it”s kind of the point.

    I’m looking forward to chatting you up at AEA SF then, since I’ll miss you at my first sxsw. I’ll keep the squealing to a minimum and try to focus on meaningful conversation, I promise. :P

  3. I totally agree. I went last year and throughly enjoyed the sessions. Outside of that though I felt a bit of a lemon. I don’t drink much either and I found the evening events far too noisy for my liking. I wish more venues provided a quiet environment where one could talk without having to shout.

  4. I have yet to go to SXSW (although I have wanted to for ages), and each year it is the same reason that forces me not to go: lack of cash. For this year’s SXSW, I actually resigned myself to ‘not going’ very early on…and now there’s no last-minute disappointment of not being able to make it (again). I’ve missed the event enough times now that it really does feel like something that is too hyped-up and I’d imagine the enormity of the crowds would taint the experience a bit anyway.
    So, from that perspective – I can understand why you’d rather spend that time with your nearest/dearest instead :)

  5. Dang… I’ll miss you, but I totally get where you’re coming from. As it is I don’t know how I’m going to do a week away from our new little one, so things better not be so ridiculously overcrowded that I can’t get some value out of the trip this year.

  6. Tracy, I look forward to it! The conversation, I mean. Any squealing you feel compelled to do is your own affair.

    I’ll miss you too, Porter (can we get a round of “Kumbaya” going here?)—we could’ve gone back for photo passes or something—but not the overcrowding. Based on last year’s attendance and the overall trend, I predict there should be more than 7,000 attendees this year for Interactive alone. And did predict at the show last year. Let me know how close I got, willya?

  7. Last year was my first time @ SXSWi and it was stimulation overload, but fantastic nevertheless.

    This year I want to concentrate a little more on the networking, meet & chat side of things though I’m sure to have the odd internal squeal if I get to stand behind Zeldman again :-)

    Hopefully catch up with you at the April CWSA meeting.

  8. I have never been to a SXSW (though it’s been the ultimate goal of my friends since back when my friends were all musicians and poets, not web geeks). I love getting together with people who do what I do, but I neither feel so alone in my profession as I once did, nor tolerate crowds very well. Unlike Mr. Robin above, the thing that keeps me from going every year is not cash, but a compelling reason to be there other than “it’d be cool.”

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  10. Eric, you will be greatly missed. Next year, consider bringin’ the family. Austin is a brilliant and wonderful place to explore and you could get a totally fresh perspective through the eyes of your wife and child.

    Damn, that means I can’t get you to wear an “I’m Accessible” tattoo this year either!

  11. I can’t agree with you more. It is hard to be gone for a week with a family at home, which is why I’m not making the trip this year either.

    First timers will be surprised at how approachable people are, especially “those who interest you.” I greatly appreciated, and was pleasantly shocked, that you remembered me said hi after only a brief introduction the year before. That was honestly a highlight last year. Thanks.

  12. I did bring the family once, goodwitch, and it was actually just as stressful, but in a different way. I wanted to be with them but also with all the geeks. There was no way to balance both and make everyone happy, least of all me; I always felt like I was shorting one side of the equation or the other (or both). And that was way back in 2006, before things got really out of control.

    So, sorry I won’t be there to refuse your tattooing again, and apologies to those who will miss me, but you’ll all be way too busy to really notice, I suspect.

    Chris, I’m sincerely flattered you consider that a highlight. The highlight for me in talking to you the second time was that I remembered us meeting the first time. Seriously, I’m horrible at remembering names and faces, so any time I can retain someone in memory enough to know I’ve met them before, it’s like a personal triumph. But then, I suppose some people are more memorable than others… and I gotta look out for my Ohio homeboys!

  13. Lori: I’m in the UK, and my Web Design is Freelance in my own time outside of work hours (with the 9-5, a job that isn’t web-related at all)…so the cost of the flight, costs while I’m there, etc. would all come out of my pocket…which is pricey!

    Glenda (Goodwitch) – Yeah, I can’t make it again this year. :(

    Eric: Sorry, that was going slightly off-topic! I can understand why you’d prefer to spend time with your family than go to SXSW (as good as it is or might be).

  14. I can’t help commenting at how sad it appears to me, for you not to do something because you’re married with children. Unlike the others, I do NOT understand. (PS, I’m in my 40s and married, so don’t say I’ll understand when I get there.)

  15. You seem to have missed almost the entire point of the post, Kiki, but thanks for commenting anyway.

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