The realisation that SXSW was around the corner sent a rush of panic through me, especially as I had carefully avoided planning a single thing. The vast schedule was a lot to take in. In fact, taking the schedule in was actually one of the listed events. However, once I got into the swing of things, I quickly realised that SXSW isn't a festival to be enjoyed via a meticulous itinerary, it's a journey of discovery, and you need to let the festival lead you. Once I processed this and let myself be open to what events were beckoning me, the experience went from overwhelming to thrilling. Emboldened, I courageously put down my phone and let my curiosity take hold.
As you might expect from a brief glimpse online these days, AI dominated the discussions in many sessions. Noelle Russell's insight, hailing from Amazon's Alexa team, on the importance of diverse design teams was eye-opening. She warned, “When it starts out it’s like a baby tiger and everyone thinks it’s super cute, but then the tiger gets big and kills someone”. Rather than killing off creativity, David Droga suggested AI might do the opposite, and that while “creativity needs technology to be real… technology needs creativity to be human”. Thus AI challenges us to elevate our creative game amidst the digital evolution. He also flagged that with these new tools the old adage that you can only have one of the trifecta of good, cheap and fast is no longer true. When someone raised the potential for AI to do harm and were summarily shot to pieces by an ED 209, I decided to walk on to another session.
Talks on leadership and future work dynamics post-Covid caught my attention. Kirstin Ferguson discussed 'head and heart' leadership alongside some concerning stats about workplace communication. The emphasis on creating psychologically safe and sociable workspaces, akin to cafes or hotels, resonated with me, especially the aspect of communal dining which is a cherished part of our culture at Moose. Rohit Bhargava's session urged us to envision a positive future and connect non-obvious trends, while Cindy Gallop called for a significant shift in female representation in startup investments, and pitched for her performance ad platform that upweights entertaining advertising.
The magnetic pull of a massive queue led me to Chance the Rapper’s keynote. His gentle discourse on rap's power to address injustice was captivating. His journey to becoming an independent artist tells us that we all have the power to either create or destroy: a poignant reminder of our mission at Paper Moose as an indie agency and B Corp — utilising creative power for good.
The session with Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker was a humorous yet profound examination of our technological age. Intriguingly, he and I have both experienced the same Venn diagram overlap of “tech-powered sentimentality” and “child poo”, as he described how Apple had also shared a happy memory of one of his children’s toilet-based creations. Probably not the intended experience the Apple designers had had their minds on, but certainly one that has happened to me and Charlie Brooker. From Charlie Brooker’s “poo” story I decided to head back to the other end of the eating journey: the ‘Future of Food’ session opened a window into alternative food technologies, like the V2 technology incorporating algae in protein burgers and Nourish Ingredients that showcased their chicken wings with an edible bone. All of this was topped off with Rove having to uncomfortably consume these live on stage. Weird though it seems first time, it was a pleasant reminder that progress and our steps towards an environmental future will feature many of these mini “frontier” moments where we’re a bit out of our comfort zone. But that’s what makes progress exciting: pushing through the comfort barrier for the sake of something better.
The music and film sessions were a rollercoaster ride across different genres, culminating in a mind-expanding finish to the SXSW week: transitioning smoothly from indie tunes to K-pop and NZ hip-hop, this perfectly encapsulated the essence of SXSW as a fertile ground for exploration and creative nourishment.
SXSW emerged as a panoramic lens, granting a glimpse into the crux of contemporary creativity, technological advancements, and the shifting paradigms of work and leadership. The voyage, though initially daunting, morphed into a treasure trove of insights and a testament to the boundless horizons of open exploration. As I reflect on the week, the engagements, dialogues, and the spontaneous dives into the unknown not only enriched my understanding but also re-energised a fascination and passion to navigate the uncharted waters of purpose-led innovation and meaningful narratives, echoing the ethos of continuous learning and growth at Paper Moose.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land upon which we create, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.
Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.