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21 March 2016

The Breakfast Taco & Five things I learned from SXSW Interactive

Written by: Justin Westcott, General Manager at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, Technology

Eggs, Sausage, Cheese, Jalapeño, tortilla and hot sauce. These are the key ingredients of a Breakfast Taco; a speciality of Austin Texas and until 7 days ago a food item I’d not managed to eat in my lifetime. Where the hell had it been my whole life – amazing!

Stick with me.

I was in Austin, for the first time, to attend SXSW Interactive this past week. An event, much like the Breakfast Taco in its ability to combine disparate ingredients- music, film, politics, science, marketing and technology – in such a way that it just tastes like they’ve always belonged together.

It is this “mixing” that, to my mind, makes it the most inspiring event I’ve attended. You could taste the creativity in the air, lingering like the chilli kick in a good Taco.

In our industry if Cannes is where you go to collect your award, SXSW is where you should go to get the creative idea that will win said award. Everyone I met and interacted with, had their neurons firing on full cylinders all eager and inspired to apply what they’d heard, or to follow up on the new connections they’d made.

As you might expect, discussions and presentations were wide ranging.

From the role of technology in civil rights, the rise of automation, smart cities and transportation, hacking the brain with VR through to the secret of happiness. With over 600 events on the Interactive part of the conference alone, I was walking around in a constant straight of FOMO. Had I gone to the right session! What was I missing?

So whilst I leave the event with pages of notes and much still to digest, here are five key lessons learnt:

  • Our Robot overlords are nowhere near. Rodney Brooks, the godfather of modern Robotics, made it clear that the media is over hyping this technology. We are far away from Robots ever thinking like humans. It’s taken 30 years of engineering and the best consumer application has been a hoover (which he invented). So let’s all take a big organic sigh and relax.
  • Self Driving Cars are close to magic, but a distant reality. The head of Google’s self-driving project Chris Urmson, demonstrated the progress with the technology. The technology behind it is magnificent. It is a feat of engineering unlike anything I’ve seen before. Yet, despite the sophistication of the solution there is still a long way to go before it’s fully commercialised and deployed. Why? Well programming for the randomness of human nature is a real challenge. He wouldn’t be drawn on timing but did say “sometime in the next 5 to 30 years”. So, probably nearer 30 than 5.
  • The US will continue to build the future. Not just because they have events like SXSW where creativity is celebrated and fostered, or that they have a President so in tune with the role of technology in ensuring future prosperity, but because of their discipline and celebration of failure. An active encouragement to fail, fail often and to have the resiliency to keep going. The second day keynote was delivered by Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, who was sharing the methods to be courageous and resilient.
  • VR is going to be much bigger than you think. This is not a fad, this is not the 3D of TV. The fact you can actively “hack” the brain due to the immersive nature of the experience means it will be industries like Education (what better way to learn than being there) or pharmaceutical (treat mental health issues like anxiety with VR) that will be disrupted in the short-term. You will soon be prescribed a VR video over Prozac.
  • Snapchat is about to go truly mainstream. Every teenager today is probably using Snapchat, a lot. The average age of use is now also starting to trend up. You want to reach the 18-30 audience? Then this is the platform. One needs to also consider that, much like Facebook did when it became mainstream, it will also begin to have an impact in the B2B environment – as young staff join business and are used to communicating in this medium.

And, much like my first experience with the Breakfast Taco I leave wanting more. Until next year.

Image: Tricia Daniel /

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