SXSW: The future according to South by Southwest

By Nic Chamberlain | 14 March 2012
Nic Chamberlain.

As the sun sets on my inspiring trip to Austin, all that is left is to wrap up some of the emerging trends to paint a picture of what the short and long term future might hold.

Importantly, we need to stop looking at digital as a channel, as HP's global CD Greg Johnson put it, "digital isn't a medium, it's the age we're in". This was consistent throughout the week, from the flurry of 'always on' location based social app launches to futurists calmly telling us we'll all be chipped pretty soon.

The importance of data was hard to ignore this week. All brands are sitting on an incredible wealth of data, be that marketing databases, ecommerce, social, web analytics and so on yet few are making the most of it. Those brands that do realise the power of data to create truly personalised experiences will inevitably succeed.

The keynote sessions on Monday were packed full of big names focusing on social media for social good, from Al Gore, Sean Parker and Twitter founder Biz Stone. Gore in particular rallied the crowd and suggested a connected online community can 'occupy democracy'. Stone went one further stating "I believe the future of marketing is philanthropy. This is going to actually help your business" (easier to do when you're worth $200 million).

Gore and Parker

This is all proof that social media has truly come of age, and that it's time to really drive change. There's obviously a lot of hope the Kony work can back that up.

More immediate is the world of 'Solomo' (social location mobile) and the concept of connecting you with people around you who are like you. Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and more all drained our batteries and got some traction without really taking off. Strangely, the most interesting thing about these services is they all rely on either Twitter or Facebook to be of use, further cementing those platforms importance in the social sphere.

As for looking way forward, there was certainly a lot of future gazing about how humans and technology will interact, not anything we've not read about (or seen in the movies) but it was resoundingly covered. Cyborg anthrapologist Amber Case highlighted that we need technology to get out of the way, so we'll use the human body, gestures and geo location as our interface for technology. Much of this is already there through applications such as Kinect and Sixth Sense for example, but her play is more retina displays than anything.

Respected futurist Ray Kurzweil certainly challenged the brain, but the message was along the same lines, a life living alongside computers rather than us merely using them. Kurzweil believes computers will ultimately become smarter than us, and will even be able to understand the nuances of irony and wordplay. The consumption of information certainly isn't a problem as Watson the IBM super computer can already call up every fact from Wikipedia in 3 seconds. Here's a couple of Kurzweil nuggets, the latter left me a little sad as it basically means we are now so intertwined with technology that we aren't bothering to use our memories anymore (Google it syndrome).

"In the future, search engines won't wait to ask, they will already be listening with your permission."

"Our cultural memories have been sourced to the cloud, freeing us up to do other things."

This kind of future is probably best displayed through video, one such example is Keiichi Matsuda's take on the hyper augmented world from 2010.

Augmented Reality

Ambient Location

So that's the SXSW wrap, see you back in Sydney.

Nic Chamberlain is writing for AdNews from the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

 Nic Chamberlain
Head of Digital

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