SXSW: Artists, Geeks, and the Technological Future

Artists and geeks get along, right? And, its time for those personalities rise to the top, yes? Austins 2011 South by Southwest conference personified would answer, hell yes!

Press Pause Play, a film that premiered at this years festival, captures the overarching message of the 2011 SXSW conference, delving into the pros and cons of our new, digital, interactive, Internet age. Directors David Dworsky and Victor Köhler allude to the future of the digital era by focusing on the arts: film, writing, design, and music, interviewing cultural forerunners of those fields. (View film trailer here.) Author and “agent of change” Seth Godin (, in the Press Pause Play lineup, says, “The industry is dead. There has never been a better time to be an artist.” Artists now have a massive audience at their fingertips””no need for agencies, big business, Hollywood, publishers, or distributors. Simultaneously, technology gets cheaper.

Sounds fantastically optimistic””perhaps, artists can rise to the top, and hold a stronger position in culture. Andrew Keen (author of “Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture”) shares a decidedly more pessimistic view, remarking that the democratization of art has inevitably lead to the output of massive amounts of mediocrity. Every coin has a proverbial flip side, I suppose. Keen suggests that the web 2.0 cultural revolution “undermines journalism,” and, “makes a lot of noise, but not a lot of truth.” We cant ensure quality when everyone is blogging. He expresses concern about a purely democratized culture that exists without a representative to fact check, and uphold standards. Further, how will talented people be found, facilitated, and paid for their creative output?

Also during this cultural revolution weve watched social media giants like Facebook and Twitter start-up with little capital, and no plans to advertisers at the outset, transform into multi-billion dollar companies with advertisers. (Twitter, touted success story of South by Southwest.) Venture capitalists pump money into the young start-ups like Foursquare, as well, in hopes that the long-term rewards will mimic those of Facebook.

Dennis Crowley, Foursquares CEO and co-founder, spoke during the conference in conversation with Mashables Pete Cashmore. Of course Crowley is in favor of the direction our culture is headed; he stands to make a killing. He claims, however, that hes not a multi-millionaire, yet. Further, “Wired Magazines king“ speaks with fervor and genuine excitement for the future of the web, which is comforting. Crowley believes that sharing information virtually can actually lead to better lives. Pointing to Foursquare partnering with the History Channel to create an applet that tells you the history of a place while you are visiting.

Throughout the interview Cashmore revealed answers to a poll conducted at this years conference. One question posed to SXSWesters was:  what do people most want out of their 2011 South by Southwest experience. Despite the obvious “beer drinking” coming to mind, the number one answer was to learn and be inspired. At this, the audience shared a collective “ah.” It is sweet. Excitement for our interactive future could be felt.

SXSW converges artists, geeks, partiers, and innovators; it is inspiring. However, daunting questions about our future remain.

“We are at a time when artists have the power,” says music producer Brenda Walker. Perhaps, shes right. Perhaps Keens prophecy that we are entering the dark ages is more accurate. And, maybe, Foursquare will be the next multi-billion dollar company. Its difficult to foresee where the dust settles, when the digital era has us thrown up in the air. Who will land on their feet? Perhaps its not about a graceful landing, anymore; maybe, its about how high we jump? Either way, I suggest artists get a little geekier.

Other fun stuff:

See the Gap ad with Crowley and Foursquare partner Naveen Selvadurai here.

SXSWs YouTube channel


National SXSW News:

From the White House, “Startup America Travels to South by Southwest”

New York Times, “Monday Night at South by Southwest”

NPRs coverage, “South by Southwest”

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