You Say Tomato at SXSW 2016 (Part 1)


You Say Tomato has recently returned from attending our first-ever South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin Texas, USA (LINK; opens in new window). SXSW is a massive conference, spanning the not-at-all insignificant areas of Film, Music, and Interactive, what seems to be a lumped-together stream of anything having to do with virtual space, computing, and social media.

We attended to promote the You Say Tomato brand, raise awareness of what we do, and learn from fellow attendees, panels, presenters, expo stands, and anyone else we could chat with, all of which we did in heaps.

We had some excellent and informative meetings with people from a range of industries, including aviation, film distributing, PR, strategic communications, and crisis management. We’re looking forward to future work within these industries, and perhaps more importantly, increasing our knowledge and understanding of the complex areas of human communication, interaction, and understanding.

Some initial thoughts on the SXSW experience (split into three parts to keep it short):

  1. It’s huge. We mean really, really huge. Texas huge. It had been 13 or so years since YST’s founder, Dr Barbara Clark, had been to Austin (last time was on a layover!) and boy, has it changed. Austin itself is not a backwater village, and the tech boom has had an impact on its size, wealth, architecture, and culture. It’s almost certain that SXSW has had an influence on the development of Austin, which is reflected in the variety of music venues, cinemas, large downtown hotels, and even the massive size of the Austin Convention Center (or ACC as it’s known in SXSW lingo).
    We had read guides for SXSW first-timers so thought we were prepared for the size and sheer number of people, things, sounds, sights, smells, panels, and events, but quite honestly unless you’ve been to SXSW before, nothing can really prepare you. We’d heard that it was ‘like Glastonbury’ (never been) and ‘like Edinburgh [in August]’ (which was more accurate), but really, SXSW is like SXSW. It’s busy, the streets are literally taken over by the festival and therefore many are closed to automobile traffic, there is live music playing constantly from at least one venue and often several within a 25 metre radius, there are loads of ‘parties’ (really, sponsored networking events but that’s really every party), and you will be swallowed up by the event, and we mean this in a very good way.
  2. There are a LOT of people. If you are the type of person who is an introvert, or shy, or doesn’t like to talk to strangers, then SXSW will likely be a bit stressful, especially the first day or two. And especially if you are not American or not used to American interactional norms, which often include casual chat with strangers, frequent use of the politeness markers ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Sir’, and what UK folk might perceive as queue-jumping. But don’t sweat it, you’re there to meet new contacts, learn things, and have experiences you never might have at home, so a bit of queue-jumping irritation might have to fall by the wayside (we’re definitely not saying you have to stop tutting and sighing when it happens though).

That’s all for Part 1 of You Say Tomato’s thoughts on SXSW. Part 2 will be available soon.

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