March 18, 2014

10 Overriding Themes from SXSWi 2014

Posted by: in North America

“How much do you still wonder about the world around you? What is your level of curiosity?” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson asked during his keynote at this year’s SXSW Interactive. The host of the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey reignited a rapt audience’s sense of curiosity—pointing out that we are hardwired to explore and to wonder. With thousands of sessions, a packed exhibit hall floor and dozens of ancillary activities, the 21st annual festival was a place ripe for curiosity and exploration.

Our latest report highlights 10 overriding themes from SXSW, which took place earlier this month in Austin, Texas, based on on-the-ground reporting, input from our JWT and Digitaria colleagues in attendance, and secondary research.

Data, security and privacy—a closely bound constellation—were among the key themes. Speaking via video, whistle-blowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, as well as journalist Glenn Greenwald, set the tone for much of the week, prompting many speakers and attendees to debate the ethics of data collection and government oversight and the parameters of personal privacy. (Our own Ann Mack gave a presentation titled “Privacy Is Dead: Long Live Privacy.”) Related conversations revolved around data permanence, cryptocurrency and an evolving, more encrypted Internet.

We also saw significant anxiety around the growing omnipresence of technology and the threat of human obsolescence as robots become more prevalent. But technology is also improving lives in various ways. IDEO founder Tim Brown and MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito pointed out that developments such as bioengineering—the biological application of engineering principles—are radically disrupting manufacturing, offering exciting new tools for sustainable, scalable construction. Wearables are helping us learn more about ourselves and potentially improve our behaviors. And the digerati are employing technology as a tool to become more mindful.

Chelsea Clinton underscored technology’s power to dramatically change lives in her keynote, touching on how it’s being used to combat counterfeit drugs in emerging markets or force government accountability. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and the new Jelly, summed it up best: “The true promise of the connected society is people helping each other.”

For a daily snapshot of the most popular topics, stories, tweets, videos, images and more from SXSWi, see JWT Brazil’s sxsw.brandmagz.com.

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