Sunday, March 10th, 2019 | 5 min read
Last night I reached the next level of SXSW mastery: seeing a bunch of celebs. At a Vice-hosted party celebrating the release of The Beach Bum, the movie’s lead – Matthew McConaughey – seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Flanked by a camera crew, he made the rounds and stopped for selfies with dozens of giddy fans.
After a few minutes, he settled behind a velvet rope that separated him from the gawking masses (myself included). He struck up a warm-looking conversation with a familiar looking man, who we soon realized was none other than his True Detective co-star Woody Harrelson.
Later that night, I happened upon potential 2020 hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who was wandering around with his wife and chatting with effusive supporters.
Back to business on day 3
This morning I popped in on a conversation hosted by Marshall Kirkpatrick, Senior Director, Influencer and Analyst Relations at Sprinklr. Kirkpatrick spoke with Azeem Azhar, the founder of Exponential View, one of the fastest growing email newsletters in tech.
Azhar provided some incisive big-picture thoughts on our current moment. He explained that we’re at a point that’s similar to others in history, in that we’re undergoing massive changes to the political landscape, economy structures, social organization, and perhaps most important, technology.
“We have a range of technology that’s improving at exponential rates,” he said. He offered the iPhone as an example, pointing out that when it was first released a decade ago, it was rolled out to one country at a time. Now, just a few years later, new iPhones go live in around 50 countries at once.
The result of this new dynamic? Our social, political, and economic systems are adapting to technology, not the other way around.
Azhar also laid out his approach to building a loyal newsletter following. It’s important to think about 1:1 relationships and reaching a larger group, he said. “I look at Exponential View as a community where I know my readers,” he added.
Navigating a negative landscape
Over at the Twitter House (an ideal destination for work and play), a heavy hitting panel discussed the current state of media in our fractured, increasingly acrimonious age.
Nick Sallon, Head of US News Partnerships at Twitter, argued that advertising is beneficial for democracy. His rationale is that because advertising funds news reporting, it makes that information accessible for more people. And when more people are informed on the issues of the day, our democracy is strengthened.
The context of this interesting proclamation was the rise of subscription-based content offerings, which, Sallon said, forces a segment of the population to pay for news content – a dangerous proposition as misinformation spreads quickly and conspiracy theories take root.
Tony Weisman, CMO of Dunkin’, weighed in on the acrimony that pervades our daily discourse. He said that while the constant negativity is exhausting, it demonstrates that people are, in fact, engaged – and that’s a good thing.
His job, he said is to “pay very careful attention to consumers and pay attention their level of engagement – how long to the spend, share, comment, what really matters to them?”
Hitting the floor
The SXSW exhibition hall at the Austin Convention Center is quite the cacophonous scene. We checked out a Japanese sushi robot, tactical smart goggles from Lockheed Martin, along with several other innovative gadgets and toys.
The whole thing’s a bit surreal. There are people in headsets lurching around, deep into a game of virtual reality tennis. Others fiddle with ultra-modern (and expensive) cameras. The sheer range of offerings is staggering and a bit overwhelming – so wide that it’s difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about what it all means.
All that said, there’s a fun feeling of camaraderie and connection on the floor. People from all corners of the globe chat and peruse each other’s offerings – kind of like worldly, hyper-innovative flea market.
My final panel of the day featured sports photographers and commentators who discussed their strategies for getting great shots and calling pivotal in-game moments just right.
Pawel Kopczynski, Central Europe & Global Sports Editor for Reuters Pictures, stressed the importance of knowing the key off-field narratives when shooting on-field action. “What’s the story?” he said. “It be about a coach who’s about to resign. You need to know the background of what’s going on – you could have great pictures of the action, but they may not be the right pictures.”
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