Focus on the individual at SXSW 2014


By Chris Lee

Each March, the tech and entertainment industries descend on Austin, Texas, for SXSW. As the show gets ever bigger it becomes even harder for the next Facebooks, Twitters and Foursquares to stand out, but this year’s focus appears to be more around who is not there in person as much as who is.

Alongside Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and other high profile tech industry titans, the biggest stir arguably could have been caused by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, both dialling in remotely from their respective places of sanctuary in Moscow and the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

SXSW director Hugh Forrest defended giving Assange and Snowden a speaking platform.

“[Privacy and surveillance] is a big focus at the 2014 event, as well it should be. I mean, it’s something that impacts this crowd very significantly, and it’s something that I think impacts all of us, given how much social is just a part of our lives,” he said. “It’s essentially woven into everything we do.”

We are all being watched

Assange addressed delegates via Skype from London.

“The ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there and, arguably, will be there in the next couple of years,” he warned. “We have to do something about it. All of us have to do something about it. How can individuals do something about it? Well, we’ve got no choice. It’s not the case anymore that you can hide from the state, and keep your head down, and hope that by sucking up or by being innocuous you can be spared.”

Assange argued that “the internet four years ago was a politically apathetic space”, with a handful of exceptions. Through movements such as his own WikiLeaks, Occupy and the Arab Spring, the Internet has “become a political space”, Assange believes.

Wearable tech continues foray into mainstream

Following the theme of how technology can help the individual and quoted by, SXSW’s Forrest said that wearable tech would be a big feature of SXSW 2014.

“I think one of the big trends at South by Southwest 2014 is this burgeoning field of wearable technology, whether that’s kind of the next generation of something like Google Glass or an improvement on that or this next generation of smartwatches that have much more functionality or whether it’s something a little bit more on the horizon which is clothing we wear that has sensors in it that automatically notifies my doctor if I’m having some kind of health problem,” he said.

Life sciences specialist Rodrigo Martinez of design firm IDEO, believes that the conversation around wearables has been driven by technology as opposed to the human motivations of the people who use them.

“Forget about technology,” NBC quotes Martinez as saying. “What are the things that matter to an individual – and then you design around that.”

For Paul M Rand, chief digital officer of PR agency Ketchum, localisation could be a key theme going forward.

“Content is still king, but getting content to the people right when they want and need it is taking on a whole new level of importance and value,” he argued. “Clearly, social, local and mobile are all converging, but now it’s becoming for real. Keep an eye out at SXSW for what’s little this year. It will likely be next year’s breakout.”

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