From the moment my flight touched down in Austin for South by Southwest last Thursday, it has been a nonstop bigger-than-ever year of brands, start-ups, celebrities, and geeks roaming the streets. The buzz is all about who is getting funding, who is the next big thing, and how the world will change because of the digital revolution we are all a part of. But there are also discussions that aren't being blogged and retweeted with quite the same fervor. There are quieter conversations by about the world beyond this weekend. About what any of these ideas and new t-shirt clad 20-something CEOs will actually be able to do outside nurturing biosphere of SXSW.
I was reminded of Jerry Maguire and his passionate plea to his sports agency as he struggled with his newfound aspiration to do something more meaningful. "This moment will be the ground floor of something real and fun and inspiring and true in this godforsaken business and we will do it together! Who's coming with me besides ..."Flipper" here?" Can we create something beyond the constant buzz and drone of new, better, best that comes out of SXSW? Something that lasts beyond a tech press article and the flurry of retweets that it is sure to inspire.
Recently I spoke on a panel about the future of technology in the world of tourism and travel with Del Ross from Intercontinental Hotel Group. In the session, Del spoke about his fear that we may be on the cusp of seeing a massive amount of people "Going Amish." As I took that thought to my peers the past few days, some of the big brands and established corporations I work with have shared some of the same fears. With a new "revolutionary" company launching on a weekly, or here at SXSW, hourly basis, there are so many opportunities for advertisers and content creators to evaluate, they're barely finding the time to form an opinion, much less make a strategic brand decision. And if professional advertisers and marketers are scratching their heads about what new vowel-less named group to align their brand with, imagine the consumers and folks outside the echo chambers of the technology industry.
As the technology futurists, visionaries, and professionals here at SXSW, we have to bring real world value to real people and not just urban hipsters in New York and San Francisco. If we don't get really good really quick we will start to see people "Going Amish" before our eyes. And by "value" I am not talking about discounts, deals, and coupons. We don't need to fight over making the next generation ValPak. But real, tangible, life inspiring ways to share and explore the world with those that we care about most. And, if we as an industry don't step up and perform at a higher level of professionalism and sincerity for those outside our industry "who just don't get how cool it all CAN be," we are going to find ourselves ostracized and left out of the real life engagements that the non-digerati masses crave.
The potential is here at SXSW to see the birth of an idea that may change the world, but only if we remember what matters to people beyond the Austin Convention Center. As Dicky Fox says in Jerry Maguire, "The key to this business is personal relationships."
(originally published 0n the Huffington Post - 3/14/2011 - "Going Amish")