SXSW 2019: Key Highlights

In the past, SXSW Interactive attendees might have expected to learn and discuss the latest and greatest in innovation and creativity however this year, the festival turned its focus to the repercussions of tech on our environments and the way its impacting our relationships with brands and with each other.

Held in downtown Austin, the Interactive portion of the event celebrated its 33rd year with sessions nodding to the complex state of the world. There were standout conversations from US Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well as 2020 US presidential candidates Howard Shultz and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who days earlier announced a bid to break up the big tech monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon in an effort to implement regulation.

As extreme polarisation continues to plague our culture, speakers called for systemic environmental and economic change from government and business. Concerns around increased automation and data privacy and an epidemic of loneliness and burnout effecting the lives of consumers across demographics and borders created a universal demand for transformative disruption.

As technology strives to improve our livelihood and productivity, there was a push for more responsible tech and business practices with a human element at their core. With consumers increasingly desperate for meaningful connection, brands were prompted to embed value-based decision-making practices into their organisations that facilitate a culture of belonging, togetherness and deep kindness.

At the culmination of the conference, we noticed each session was either innovation or issue-focused. While our comprehensive conference analysis highlighted six in each sector, we’ve offered a taste of the report below, calling out two innovations and two issues each.


Evolution of Work: With mounting fear of automation overtaking the job market, sessions focused on offering tools for brands to compete in this changing landscape. As the future approaches, brands will need to prepare for an era of mutual mentorship. Companies will grow nimble as the gig economy gains traction, expected to represent 43% of the US workforce by 2020. Employees and freelancers will collaborate more seamlessly with the roll-out of 5G connection next year. As five generations being to work alongside one another, it’s important to encourage mentorship across demographic groups, encouraging young workers to learn from but also educate those older than them, and vice versa.

Future Space: According to Maggie Hartnick, managing director at LaPlaca Cohen, cultural experiences will defy norms and embrace radical welcoming in the future. The Shed, a brand new entertainment hub at New York’s Hudson Yards aims to reduce the barriers to entry, enabling audiences to engage with art in a variety of alternating settings.


Deep Kindness: As noted out in our Future Consumer 2021 report, the proliferation of hate online is being counteracted by an emerging culture of radical empathy, helping to unite people and break down the silos though conversation and understanding. AOC highlighted her human-centred approach to politics, calling for more compassionate dialogue as a vehicle to help people comprehend differences. “No one ever changes their mind in the acute moment of the conversation,” she said. The goals is not to win, but rather to listen.

Generation Burnout: “Never before have we worked more hours and felt more discouraged,” said author and coach Michelle Berry. The age of anxiety is impacting overall human wellbeing, with 60% of US workers stressed out most or all of the time. Berry also noted that 80% of employees say they’re fast approaching burnout with over 1 million people skipping work daily because of stress-related circumstances. Author Ellen Shell of Boston University said work has become a status symbol in the US. As the lines between professional and personal life blend, Shell suggested extending life-long learning and reducing workplace surveillance to create more meaningful working environments.

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