SXSW exists in its own category: it’s not just a conference, it’s not just a festival, it’s not just a tradeshow; it’s an amalgamation of all three and more, a mecca for consumers, brands, agencies, vendors, artists, musicians, cultural icons, and of course, nerds: what can only be accurately described as a “media-palooza.” What I found was SXSW is synonymous with the very latest in technology and futurist theory.
From apps to software to hardware, from the sessions to the showcases, I learned more about what is going on in consumer and enterprise technology and how this is shaping our future than at any other conference. In three days, I attended 13 sessions, spoke with hundreds of other attendees, saw dozens of new products, and yet I feel like I only scraped the surface.
The major theme I heard: The growing layer(s) of data across everything will connect all aspects of our lives, but our ability to redefine privacy and regulation will determine the fate of adoption.
The connectivity of data, the internet of things, will start with people and, later, shift the nature of government, industry, and consumerism as a whole. Hyperconnectivity of devices, data sets, and intelligent sensors will connect ourselves with ourselves (growing self-awareness?), ourselves with each other, ourselves with devices, devices with devices, and with a greater human consciousness. Al Gore coins this unification of the data our experiences create as “the Global Mind.”
From the emergence of nanoparticles playing the role of enzymes and proteins in our bloodstream (sending us and our caretakers a text when we contract the flu, for instance), to apps that collect everything from our heartrate, cholesterol level, mood, opinion, to technology vendors purporting personalization using digital profiles ‘more unique than the iris of our eyes,’ SXSW confirmed a coming Age of Connectivity that will fundamentally alter our experience as humans, civilians, and consumers at once.
This will enable a new brand of globalization, a new imperative of political accountability, a new expectation for consumption, and a new medium for people to connect and be connected with their environment. The generality of the term ‘environment’ is no mistake. This will has the capacity to shape everything.
Part of our adoption of this, as a global culture, will depend on how we choose to deal with its single most important accompanying roadblock: privacy. Growing connectivity will absolutely require a deeper and more tangible (re)construction of privacy itself, standardization and regulation as we know it; a chartering of unchartered territory. But as inevitable as this scrutiny is, so too is the tardiness of regulation behind the technology; how connectivity plays out by industry, technology will be next to impossible for governments and institutions to predict, regulate and standardize in order to prevent corruption and abuse and encourage innovation. Takeaway: Privacy itself, including our understanding, comfort with, and expectation of, will be disrupted by technology. But, culturally how we deal with this will determine the fate of our adoption of connectivity.
Like electricity, data itself will only be the infrastructure for our experience as consumers, not the medium persay, but it will define our technological future. In the past we have harnessed and transformed our experience through fire, stone, textile, metal, paper, print, electricity, and TV— now our connection will grow through data. Assuming, that is, we can connect the right dots as the dots connect us.