For a good week and a half, I made time to add every single panel and event related to Marketing, Branding, Art, and Design at SXSW into my Outlook calendar. I even added 30 minute reminders to make sure I made it on time to each. My calendar for the week of March 13 looked something like a Basquiat painting and I was confident I wasn’t going to miss anything. You can tell, obviously, that this was my first time attending SXSW.
Sure enough, all the panels I was interested in on Day One were at full capacity 30 minutes prior to starting. Even with my handy back-to-back schedule, I quickly realized that moving a couple of blocks from Point A to Point B was going to be harder than I anticipated. As I observed people in the Convention Center’s hallways, I noticed many instances of disappointment from people having the same issue. With so much to see and do, and no time to waste on small talk, it was inevitable for all of us to be immersed in our cellphones, checking schedules, reading maps, following hashtags or engaging in virtual conversations.
What we were not seeing was the unparalleled networking opportunity made present the moment the panels ended. Think about it. The chances of having something in common or having something interesting to share with the person in front or behind you in the line are pretty high. There’s a reason you wanted to go to that same panel. The chances of making lifetime connections with people who can also introduce you to other valuable connections were there. Instead, we opted to use our cellphones, or move on to the next activity in hopes of making it there on time.
As the Interactive portion of the conference neared its end, my team and I went to the Interactive SXSW Awards, where Recode Co-Founder and Executive Editor Kara Swisher was inducted into SXSW’s Interactive’s Hall of Fame. During her acceptance speech, she highlighted on the importance of “looking up,” referring to how we constantly stick our faces in our phones and do not participate enough in this democracy. “Look up, look up at the world and look at people in the world,” she specifically said. I was able to immediately identify with what she was saying, as I had been giving this some thought for the past few days.
When I wasn’t on my phone, I was able to have engaging conversations with many incredible people from different ethnic and industry backgrounds. I took something positive and unique away from each of these interactions.
Although it’s sometimes necessary to be immersed in our smartphones, we do tend to lose ourselves in the digital world. We forget to look around, but there’s a lot of value in connecting and learning from the people standing right next to you, at SXSW or anywhere.