Flying Cars, CIA Secrets, & Game of Thrones: A WNW Guide to SXSW
Mea Cole Tefka / WNW Member
Whether meeting a real-life space station astronaut in an elevator, gushing over John Maeda at 7am in a taxi line, or spending time with my favourite folks from Working Not Working, SXSW is always a unique experience. Although I’ve been an official speaker twice, I’m a bit of a nerd and spend my time enjoying a session on a topic outside my everyday experience in New York City advertising (The CIA Library! Flying Cars!). Over the many years, I’ve been fortunate to collect some useful strategies. Looking at the 2019 schedule, there are opportunities to hear the CEO of Dosist, A$AP Rocky, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Frank Oz, and so many more. Here’s a collection of sessions, events, and notes to help make your time in Austin awesome.
If you’re going to SXSW for the first time (and everyone was a virgin once) or you need a refresher, here are a couple of things to remember.
Be Nice - The city grows almost to a breaking point every year. There’s traffic, drunk people, and lots of other annoyances for people who are just going about their everyday life. It’s not Vegas, and being respectful goes a long way.
Power, power, power - Outlets are always at a premium and you’re always on the go. Having back-up batteries and preparing with chargers and cords is clutch.
Bring Cash - Pedicabs, tipping bar staff… we’re not in a cashless society yet. Avoid paying high ATM fees in hotel lobbies.
Use Ride Austin - A local non-profit that is a Lyft and Uber alternative.
Layers and comfortable shoes - It can get hot in the day and cold at night, plus this year looks like rain. Luckily, Austin is also a casual city. It’s always good to have some back up and especially when you’re on your feet all day waiting in line.
Download the SXSW app - Super helpful for everything festival-related.
Be prepared to wait in line - From the Convention Center to airport taxi lines to the taco truck, EVERYWHERE has a line. It’s easy to chill, just prepare yourself to be patient and give yourself some extra time.
Bars close at 2am - Plan accordingly.
Daylight Savings - It’s Sunday. Spring forward and lose an hour of precious sleep.
Session Findings - Always try to go see someone or hear something that’s different. However, if the title isn’t catchy and the description doesn’t make any sense, the hour you spent probably isn’t worth it. Always look at where the speakers are from so you know what level of authority they’re bringing to the subject. When in doubt, getting into the Pitch Accelerators are always fascinating to hear what people are working on. Try to sit near the aisles. If something also isn’t catching, it’s OK to leave quietly, and you can dash early when the Q+A starts (the last 10 minutes of every session).
SXXpress - As a way to manage the insane lines that happen, this is a new initiative that will be an “interesting” experience. From what I can tell, 60% of the sessions are eligible. Anything with a premiere speaker, featured, or keynote is marked for this program. It looks like it’s going to be like FastPass at Disney or Six Flags, but you will need to have your badge registered and linked before being able to get one PLUS you are only allowed two per day (three if you’re Platinum). Sign-ups start at 9am CT the day before. I’m guessing you can still queue and wait. This will definitely help for film screenings, but if you’re not prepared, you might not get into the session you really want.
Scooters! - #BirdLife has landed in Austin. Let’s all remember we’re supposed to wear helmets. Austin has a lot of hills and it’s supposed to rain, so BE SAFE and download the apps (Bird, Lyft, Lime) before heading out.
The Line Hotel - With an outdoor space to compete with the Four Seasons, Alfred Coffee, and a restaurant from a “Top Chef” winner, this new hotel on the corner of Congress and Cesar Chavez looks like a new hot spot.
ACTIVATIONS AND OPEN EVENTS
Game of Thrones: “Bleed the Throne”
Already sold out when the site opened, this is the hottest ticket in town. Coming off last year’s “Westworld” experience 2018 and Escape Room 2017, expect this to top them all for the final season. Partnered with the American Red Cross, you can also register if you’re giving blood. March 7-9, 1100 E 5th Street
Hanging at the Midnight Cowboy with our friends from Huge has become tradition. This year, they’ve got a great line-up of open programming in the evening with partners like Justin “Just Blaze” Smith, Digiday, and NASA
A great space to hang out in the day, network, and experience their own events. Happy hours, interactive experience, and indoor/outdoor space.
Some other spaces that have some good events and free swag. Will be lots more all over downtown.
In addition to sessions that focus on fine art, there are a mix of experiential, site-specific installations, and art using technology curated by an advisory board that includes the Serpentine Gallery, Frieze, and Burning Man.
25 VR experiences that range from social good to spacial audio experiences from March 11-13.
From March 14-16, a portion of the exhibition hall becomes a screen-printing gallery with artists from the American Poster Institute.
My favourite food
Local: Micklethwait. Get there at 10am.
Worth a drive out of town: Louie Mueller. “The Cathedral of Smoke”
WNW FOOD & MUSIC FAVS
Golden Dawn Arkestra has played at WNW parties in year past. This band is a once in a lifetime experience and right now only doing two shows - March 8th and 12th!
It’s exciting this year to see so many sessions addressing diversity, inclusion, equality, and accessibility. Lots on AI this year, less on VR/AR/MR. Almost every Democratic nominee for President is speaking, and there’s even a CNN Town Hall.
Here are some day-by-day options I’m looking at that are a bit off the beaten path from the Keynotes and Featured Sessions:
FRIDAY MARCH 8
11am - AI Creates Cashless Cities and a Borderless World - Ant Financial, one of the biggest brands in China, is changing everyday transactions. (JW Marriott, Salon 5)
2pm - The eSports Gamification of Real Sports - Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and League of Legends look at how eSports are influencing traditional sports experiences. (JW Marriott, Salon 1-2)
5pm - Wombats and Wood Ducks: CIA’s Secrets to Creative Problem Solving - Behind the scenes at the CIA (Hilton, Salon B)
SATURDAY MARCH 9
11am - Business and Social Justice in the Trump Era - Ben+Jerry’s and Postmates talk about taking a stand in today’s political environment. (The Line Hotel, Topaz Ballroom, 1-2-3)
1230pm - The Design in Tech Report - Working Not Working Advisor John Madea’s annual observations on the changes across design through technology. An annual favourite. (JW Marriott, Salon 5)
330pm - “The Simpsons” Writers & Creative Cohabitation - Artists talking about how to work together while working on The Simpsons. (Convention Center, Room 12AB)
5pm - Let’s Talk about the Gun Emoji - Unicode speaks to the evolution of the gun emoji in response to real-world incidents and social conversation. (JW Marriott, Salon 6)
SUNDAY MARCH 10
11am - Urban Aerial Mobility: Closer Than You Think - Flying cars are happening! (Hilton, Salon F)
1230pm - The Dark Side of Tech: Surveillance and Propaganda - Looking at China’s crackdown on the Uighur crisis with journalists from the community and the Human Rights Foundation. (The Line Hotel, Topaz Ballroom, 1-2-3)
330pm - Creating Community and Finding Your People - The founder of Daybreaker shares her experience building the global community. (Convention Center, Room 9ABC)
MONDAY MARCH 11
930a - Mothers of the Resistance: Women Leading the Movement - Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Women’s March founder/activist Linda Sarsour lead a panel on work/life integration. (JW Marriott, Brazos Room)
11am - Can the Tech industry Disrupt Poverty - Unicef, Google, and more explore how tech can solve issues many companies aren’t taking on. (Hilton, Salon F)
1230p - Navigating the New Arctic - The National Science Foundation talks about exploring and protecting this crucial part of our environment in a time of drastic change. (Hilton, Salon B)
5pm - In the Red: How Americans Experience the Economy - Looking deeper into the lives of American workers and their financial challenges. (Hilton, Salon A)
TUESDAY MARCH 12
930a - High Impact in Public Space: Art, Spectacle, Tech - The Director of Civic Engagement at Burning Man leads a panel on enlivening our open spaces with art. (JW Marriott, Salon 6)
11a - Americans. Who Are We Now? Look and Listen - Pop Up Magazine comes to SXSW! (JW Marriott, Salon D)
5pm - The Digital Loneliness Epidemic: Reshaping Social Media - Lady Gaga’s foundation and Center for Humane Technology look at how powerful real interactions need to balance our online lives. (Hilton, Salon C)
WEDNESDAY MARCH 13
11am - Outsmarting Homelessness: 21st Century Solutions - How blockchain and other solutions are helping to find solutions to the issue of homelessness. (The Line Hotel, Topaz Ballroom, 1-2-3)
1230pm - The Future of Eating - What’s happening now that’s going to affect our most basic need. (Jw Marriott, Salon AB)
330pm - Can You Engineer (Sexual) Pleasure? - Beyond sex robots, what’s the future of sexuality and intimacy when it comes to technology? (Hilton, Salon K)
If you’re still around March 14-16th, there are also great sessions on Cannabis, eSports, and VR.