Each year, Sociality Squared looks forward to SXSW! In fact Helen has been participating since 2009 (before S2 was even born!) through attending, speaking, and/or serving on the advisory board.
After last year’s event was cancelled due to the pandemic, we were happy to see the conference pivot to an all-virtual event in 2021. We blocked off the calendar, live tweeted (follow us at @helenstravels and @cinfullysocial), and hosted nightly recap rooms on Clubhouse to discuss the most important sessions and themes. As usual, SXSW did not disappoint.
Below are some of our top takeaways from SXSW Online 2021.
Connection and Conversation
A full year into the pandemic and you could truly see that people are craving true, authentic connection and that conversation is more important than ever.
One stand-out panel tackling this topic was Connecting Communities with Creative Conversation with Fred Dust and Vivek Murthy. They discussed how conversations and connection is deep inside us as human beings. It’s instinctual and we’re hardwired to connect. These don’t have to be big, grand conversations discussing the meaning of life. They believe that there is power in small interactions (coworkers, neighbors, etc.) and those provide us with a moment of authenticity. And silence is key. Silence lets us slow down. Slowing down helps us see more clearly.
Vivek beautifully stated: I want my kids to inherit a world that is full of opportunity and possibility — where people will embrace and support one another. That can only happen if we recognize relationships for what they are: building blocks for a successful, healthy fulfilled society.
Both Stacey Abrams and Melinda Gates pointed out that you also need to meet people where they are – not where you want them to be. For example, Stacey Abrams takes advantage of every medium of communication – from gun shows to country radio – to reach constituants where they are spending time.
There’s also serendipity in our true connections. If you look at how you’ve met your spouse, partner, or best friend, those weren’t manufactured. A lot of building community is the “right time, right place.”
Finally, Carole King stated that having a conversation was the most fun thing she can do. So that says something!
Diversity and Equity
Another topic that came up was the importance of diversity, activism, and an equitable future. However, it needs to go more than buzz words, Instagram posts, and lip service. To paraphrase Jemele Hill in her Impacts of Activism panel, we need to see the entire organizational chart. All people need to be represented throughout the company and diversity more than a once a year training or idea. Also, companies need to also consider their purchasing power and what partners they’re working with that can positively impact communities in which they operate.
It was brought up time and time again that there is a need for people to see themselves in the story. Stacey Abrams really hit this point home in her keynote speech. You have to show people where they fit in and what comes next.
Representation matters! But as Charles Yu pointed out in his keynote conversation with Lisa Ling, it must be an accurate portrayal. He mentioned that when he saw Asians in the story, it was in the background or problematic portrayals like “Kung Fu Man.”
We need to look at our entire structure. As Secretary Pete Buttigieg pointed out, our entire transportation system is inherently racist. Whether that’s highways going through neighborhoods, lack of public transportation, or even bypasses that are too low for buses to go under, our most basic structures are set up for exclusion.
The 13-34 demographic cares deeply about civic responsibility and wants to associate with brands doing good in the world. Their stance is what can we do together – not what you can do to me. Brands will have to walk the walk in order to earn the younger generation’s money.
One of the top lines from the whole conference came from Stacey Abrams: It’s not about being pessimistic or optimistic. It’s about being determined. We can cry, shut off our computer, take a break, do what we need to do. But then it’s our responsibility to rise and take action. Be determined to do better and leave this world better than we found it.
If you have a badge, you can catch up on sessions you missed, and several Music Festival showcases are on demand along with select Film Festival programming through April 18. Click here to rewatch and rediscover! SXSW also makes most content available on their YouTube channel – we’re not sure of their plans, but subscribe to see when and what content they’ll post from 2021’s virtual conference.
SXSW is hopeful that they will be able to hold an in-person event in 2022 and have already announced next year’s dates! Mark your calendars for March 11 – March 20 in Austin, TX. Here at Sociality Squared, we look forward to meeting up in person once again to share ideas. While we made the most of our virtual time together and enjoyed it, nothing beats sharing a taco or conversation over a fire pit. Until next year!
Please share your top takeaways from SXSW Online 2021 as a comment!