I am sitting in yet another airport lounge reflecting on my recent SXSW experience. A new colleague took a photo of some writing on the back of a fellow ‘south by’ attendee which read the title of this blog and illustration.
The thing that struck me about SXSW was the undeniable, unmistakable current that ran through the dialogue. The need to bring humanity back. Now I must admit my bias here, being someone who has dedicated my life to researching and designing for the human condition. Even in the talks about AI, it wasn’t devoid of the human impact. We didn’t seem that enamoured by the technology anymore, this made me happy.
The trend towards the ‘radical humanization’ advocated by people like Tim Leberecht in The Business Romantic seemed to be pulsing throughout the conference. As this was my first SXSW I cannot gauge whether this is unique or if it is always the case here, but it certainly caught me by surprise as I am often left wanting after attending conferences.
What is emergent is a sense of what it means to be human.
Another very obvious undercurrent, and sometimes over current—thank you Jill Soloway for your amazing talk—was the need for inclusion of minorities, and in particular women. Women in tech, women in leadership, women in space. Women are needed everywhere! Perhaps what is being amplified is the want for what are normally seen as feminine attributes; inclusion, empathy, acceptance.
There was also a feeling that I haven’t been able to put my finger on. It felt a little flat. The interactive part of it at least, not the music and film part of it, I was too exhausted to give that a good run to be honest. It didn’t feel hopeless, there was certainly hope expressed in many of the keynote speakers. Though there was a general heightened feeling of circumspect.
It really is the only word I feel comfortable using, because it certainly didn’t feel like a defeated bunch of people, or a negative one. But I can’t say it was an optimistic vibe either. I think this is only indicative of the political climate, not only in the US but everywhere in the world at the moment.
People are just sitting in it. Observing like vigilant bystanders. This heedful ambition is necessary when we are confronted with such colossal systemic challenges. What is emergent is a sense of what it means to be human.
Being focussed on inclusion, and a commitment to work with people that are different than you, learning from them to augment your own perspectives, knowledge and experience is what we are going to need to navigate through the challenges we seem to be facing now. We are certainly united in our past from an evolutionary sense, though in the present I feel there are more divides forming than unity, one that we absolutely share is the future. And with the undercurrent that was present at SXSW, I am hopeful the future is actually going to be a great one.