Attending SXSW as an Anthropologist

Man am I glad that’s over.

Last night I got back from my very first experience of the South-by-Southwest interactive conference, or “South-bye,” as its habitués say. It’s an annual get-together in Austin, Texas for techies of all stripes: self-proclaimed geeks, startup founders, fan-boys and -girls, and the sponsors that love them. And it’s like the seventh outer circle of Dante’s inferno.

I have never seen such a concentration of desperate people trying to sell each other on fleeting trends. (Then again I skipped the 2004 Democratic National Convention, even though I almost spoke at it.) Being there made me feel insecure, old, aimless, and unsuccessful all at the same time. Obviously I’ve already booked my tickets for next year.

Despite its hellaciousness, though, SXSW was absolutely invaluable for research purposes. I got so much great material, from scene settings to character studies to dialogue better than anything I could make up. To wit:

Girl: Excuse me. My iPhone’s battery is at 6 percent, could I use that outlet for a few minutes?
Guy: Um, only if you follow me on twitter.

And, not to be undervalued, I already used up my 15 minutes of fame courtesy of the local NBC affiliate in Austin, KXAN. The reporter pronounces my name wrong. What more can an aspiring author ask for, really?

SXSW crowds are here!: kxan.com

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