As I am continually being reminded by crowds that won’t disperse, South by Southwest’s tech portion (”Interactive,” as us old-timers will keep calling it) isn’t over. There’s still another full day of panels and programming, and then there’s SXSW Gaming which continues through Saturday, three whole days of tournaments, Nintendo Switch and cosplay for miles.
So this might be an incomplete list -- and subject to change -- but here are five things that really caught my eye, captured my imagination or just made me go “Wow!” at SXSW 2017:
Kara Swisher’s SXSW Innovation Awards Hall of Fame acceptance speech
There was an awful lot of journalism talk at South by Southwest this year, but one thing you didn’t get much of from the media at panels was a full-blown apology. Swisher, known as one of the toughest, funniest and most on-point tech journalists (if she’s not the best in the business, she’s certainly in the top 5), told a Tuesday night gathering that the free press has not done enough to hold those in power accountable, leading to what she called a terrible year (draw your own conclusions, folks). She also mentioned that she had to leave to go write a story about Rachel Maddow’s Trump tax returns story (”I like to support lesbians with similar haircuts,” she cracked), but she had enough time to thank SXSW in a manner most sincere and to make the case for tough journalism. She was being inducted into SXSW Interactive’s Hall of Fame, which entitles her to a lifetime pass to access the conference. In classic Swisher style, she pointed out that she already has full access to SXSW every year.
This magnifying glass cardboard box
Sometimes, the most eye-catching stuff at SXSW is completely out of left field and out on the street or in the hallways of the Austin Convention Center, not stage-managed at a showy panel or on the Expo Floor. I have no idea what “@Nifty” does or what #BigFaceBox is supposed to be, but I kept seeing it all over the place and it was disturbing. I think I’m going to be dreaming about it for a while.
We also spotted it downtown.
Zoning out to Optic Obscura
Relaxing hard at SXSW can be as important as playing and working hard; muscles get sore, brains get overstimulated and the body needs a break. Optic Obscura, an easy-to-miss art installation tucked away in a hallway on the Austin Convention Center’s first floor, provided those who found it a visually arresting respite: Hanging fiber optic cables provided a light show and ambient music induced happy naptimes for attendees who laid down on the floor. Thank you, Raum Industries, for bringing this to SXSW.
The Mummy VR Experience + Tom Cruise running
Virtual reality was still a big presence at South by Southwest for 2017 but perhaps not with the same kind of new-toy buzz as last year. It seemed like every booth at the Expo Hall had some sort of cardboard-VR tie-in and the novelty had kind of worn off. Universal, which has a “Mummy” reboot movie coming out in June, upped the ante with chairs that swivel and tilt, allowing viewers to go behind the scenes of a plane wreck scene from the movie where the actors float in zero-G. Well done and it drew a consistent crowd while it was in town. It would have been even more exciting if it had been showing the actual scene from the movie instead of the behind-the-scenes, but you can’t have everything, I guess. Oh, and the trailer for the movie has as much Tom Cruise running as you might expect. Check out a Facebook Live video we did about the VR experience.
Avoiding parking headaches on an electric minibike
The day before SXSW began, I was loaned a Hardcore Minibike to ride around during the conference. At first, I was skeptical; I didn’t think I was going to feel comfortable riding one of these things around thick, SXSW Austin traffic, and the idea of just leaving it parked around downtown made me certain anyone with a truck would just come and and steal it. A lot of my fears were unfounded. It only took me a few minutes to get comfortable riding the electric bike, which goes up to about 20 mph and has a range of about 20 miles per charge. It has a very loud built-in alarm and requires a key to operate, so nobody (that I know of) tried to steal it over the six days I used it all over downtown Austin. Most of all, it was just really, really fun to ride. And yes, I realize that it makes me a literal riding advertisement (for the record, Hardcore didn’t request any coverage as a condition for the loaner; they simply asked me to give honest feedback about the good and bad of my riding back to them, which I did). The minibike’s eye-catching looks earned lots of admiring stares and calls such as, “Dude that’s sick!” “What IS that?” “Hey, you can’t drive that here! Wait, is that a motorcycle? It’s not?” Expect to hear more from this Austin company as it starts selling the bikes, which cost about $2,000, and as they move into offering downtown tours and rentals. It made me think that maybe many of us can bypass all the ride-hailing, parking and traffic debates by going minibike. I’m certain that if I don’t own one of these by next year, I’m going to at least try to rent one to use during SXSW.
What were your favorite SXSW experiences? Post a comment and let us know! And catch more of our SXSW coverage here.
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