‘Language of Technology’ Takes Center Stage at SXSW

South by Southwest Interactive elevates user experience

Following the suit of the Lone Star state’s “Everything is bigger” dictum, the minds behind South by Southwest Interactive are capitalizing this year on the Austin-centered fest’s cutting-edge participants to mold a smorgasbord of events that inspires and elevates the user experience.

“We’re ultimately a conference about creativity,” says fest director Hugh Forrest, who has been at the helm since 1994. “It just happens to be that most of the attendees are speaking the language of technology.”

To this end, the programming for the conference’s 20th installment, which runs March 8-12, will feature more than 800 presentations, panels and keynotes, and will cover the realms of education, new business models, wireless, fashion and food, among others.

Traditionally the smallest portion of the SXSW family of events, Forrest says Interactive wouldn’t have survived if the music branch had not been paying the bills. That said, however, beginning about 2004-05, Interactive started seeing significant growth and in the past couple years has become the biggest part of the event in terms of industry attendance.

Forrest attributes many factors to that growth, but two of the key players are social media and start-ups — and social media start-ups. Interactive saw Twitter and Foursquare stage their coming-out parties there in 2007 and 2009, respectively. This year Forrest says social media will continue to be an emerging trend, and he’s particularly looking forward to an event with former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal — the second-highest followed athlete in the world with more than 6.7 million followers — who will join the fest to talk about social media interaction and strategy.

Other important trends to grab the spotlight, per Forrest, this year include 3D printing, location-based services, next generation social networking and next generation devices such as the oft-mentioned Google Glasses.

Interactive advisory board member Noah Kuttler adds that the programming represents an eclectic bag of gems — ranging from Charlie Nox’s “Stop Staring at My Tumor, My Boobs Are Down Here,” a talk on dating with health issues, to Ben Huh’s “The Art of Making Fun of Yourself,” which adds humor to your social recipe — all of which speak to the fest’s outside-the-box expansion.

Over the years Forrest has seen the fest explode on an evolutionary scale: 20 years ago multimedia content meant presenting CD-ROMs to attendees. This year, Interactive has tapped SpaceX topper Elon Musk, who will discuss private space exploration, as a keynote speaker. One of the emerging trends of 2013, Forrest says outer space is becoming a tangible reality, and the fest has 10-15 events digging into galactic territory.

“We are an event that very much is a reflection of the creative, innovative community that attends South by Southwest,” Forrest says. “We’ve grown because we’ve been able to tap into this community and understand it better.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Depeche Mode - Dave GahanLes Vieilles

    Depeche Mode Documentary Gets One-Night Theatrical Release

    Depeche Mode has reunited with the group’s long-time filmographer, Anton Corbjn, for a combination documentary/concert film, “Spirits in the Forest,” which Trafalgar Releasing has announced it will put on approximately 2400 screens worldwide for one night Nov. 21. The film documents performance footage from the Berlin dates of Depeche Mode’s 115-gig Global Spirit Tour of [...]

  • Patti SmithVariety's 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Patti Smith Talks Biopics, Beats and Losing Her Cool in Front of Bob Dylan

    On Thursday afternoon Variety partnered with IFP for the first “10 Storytellers to Watch” event, and among the novelists, lyricists, podcasters, playwrights, graphic novelists and brand storytellers who were honored was the pioneering singer, poet and author Patti Smith. The legendary artist received the Impact in Storytelling honor not only for her formidable body of [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    Judge Sides With Michael Jackson Estate in 'Leaving Neverland' Dispute

    A federal judge is leaning towards granting the Michael Jackson estate’s move to take HBO to arbitration in its dispute over the documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Judge George Wu issued a tentative ruling on Thursday in which he denied HBO’s motion to dismiss the estate’s case. Wu is expected to make the ruling final by the [...]

  • Chuck Dauphin receives the CMA Media

    Country Music Journalist Chuck Dauphin Dies at 45

    Chuck Dauphin, the undisputed sweetheart of country music journalism, died Wednesday night at 45. Dauphin was the rare journalist who could claim the title “CMA Award winner.” The Country Music Association bestowed him with its CMA Media Achievement Award backstage during a lull in the telecast in 2014. A writer and radio personality who was [...]


    Bob Dylan to Release Country-Themed Box Set, ‘Travelin’ Thru, 1967-69,’ Featuring Johnny Cash

    Columbia Records and Sony catalog division Legacy Recordings will release the boxed set “Bob Dylan (featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Thru, 1967 – 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15” on Nov. 1. The set collects previously unreleased recordings from Dylan’s country-themed albums of the era, focusing on previously unavailable recordings made with Johnny Cash and unreleased [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld photographed by Art Streiber

    Hailee Steinfeld Drops New Song From Apple TV Series ‘Dickinson’

    Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld dropped a new song on Thursday, “Afterlife (Dickinson)” from the upcoming Apple TV+ series “Dickinson,” in which she stars and serves as an executive producer. According to the announcement, Steinfeld drew lyrical inspiration from her character, Emily Dickinson, and the themes and ideas in many of her literary works. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content