Shorthand, it’s “SXSW,” but Austin’s incredible 30-year-old celebration is fully titled “SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals.” If movies and music are the only festival images you mentally conjure, you’ve missed out on perhaps the richest and most diverse component: SXSW Interactive.
SXSW Interactive features an incredible array of programming. Throughout its lifespan, it has evolved beyond technology and gaming. Now, convergence tracks, which are open to multiple badges, include SXsports, SX Health & MedTech, SouthBites, SXgood, SXstyle, and Online Harassment Summit.
This is an incomplete list. There’s much more.
As a fitness junkie, I’m partial to SXsports. It’s an insane opportunity to mix and mingle with athletes and sportswriters. I’ve attended sessions with top-level athletes incognito in the audience–Paul Rabil (the NLL’s first million-dollar player) and Olympic boxer Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, for example. The panelists themselves? Everyone from legends (Edwin Moses), superstars (Ronda Rousey) and personalities (Bomani Jones), to emerging influencers (too many to name).
But there’s more to life than sports. So I also included other SXSW convergence sessions in this year’s coverage. Here are some of the standouts, each with an Austin connection.
Highlights From SXSW Interactive 2016
SXsports: Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross Shares Her Savvy
Austin has an amazing running community, and Sanya Richards-Ross is its track and field golden girl. Most recently recognized for her gold medals in the individual 400m and 4x400m relay at London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Richard-Ross has been repeatedly named the best 400m runner in the world. Despite some nagging injuries and foot surgery (2014), she’s racked up 46 sub-50 career times. Translation for non-track and field fans: she’s wicked fast.
Naturally, her SXsports talk, “Keeping the Buzz Going After the Crowd Goes Home,” was packed with sports journalists and fans.
Richards-Ross is also a savvy business woman. She and her sister own The Hair Clinic Salon (3016 Guadalupe St.). Recently, Richards-Ross and her husband, a former University of Texas Longhorn and NFL cornerback, launched Ross Elite Car Service. As a sponsored athlete, she works with world-class partners, such as Nike, BMW and Citibank. There was even a reality TV show called “Glam and Gold” primarily filmed here in Austin.
Interviewer Matt Fetterman (Wall Street Journal) guided Richards-Ross through topics spanning the Zika virus to Russian doping and competing in a post-Title IX world. He asked for details about her training day. There was an audible gasp as Richards-Ross mentioned the 1,000 sit-ups she does nightly, a practice she began in high school.
Social media is crucial to maintaining buzz, and Richards-Ross regularly works a variety of sites. She posts daily (including from the SXSW panel table) to maintain her audience connection. Social media is heavily visual, so I asked Richards-Ross if she feels additional pressure related to appearance. She was frank: “I know women who are phenomenal athletes, but don’t look a certain way, who don’t get sponsorship dollars. I wouldn’t have the same opportunities if I weren’t pretty…while I sometimes feel it does take away from all the years I’ve dedicated to my sport, I do enjoy fashion.”
Richards-Ross is an ardent advocate for changing International Olympic Committee rules that restrict when Olympic athletes can promote sponsorships: “Everyone’s getting paid except the athletes…and this is our livelihood.” In track and field, Richards-Ross stated that winning athletes often earn less than $10,000 a year. “Blessed” with successful business ventures and International Olympic Committee-approved sponsors, she’s speaking out to help other athletes using the hashtag #WeDemandChange.
SXstyle: Local Business Built on Dedication to Giving
It felt worlds away from the sports crowd at the Four Seasons. In reality, SXstyle was merely a few blocks further downtown at the Westin (each SXSW segment has its own hotel home base).
Austin-based designer Kendra Scott is an engaging speaker, and her “Building a Philanthropic Fashion Empire: Do Good” presentation was motivational. While her talk fell under fashion’s umbrella, it could have fit within SXgood, a convergence track highlighting social impact.
“Activity breeds activity,” Scott said. “You have to create reasons for [clients] to come in. And what better reason than philanthropy?”
Scott feels her success goes hand-in-hand with her focus, best summed up in #youdogood (the motto was derived from a comment by her dying stepfather; the hashtag promotes Kendra Gives Back events). She explained that “always having something to give” has built her business, encouraged charity and brought funds to many groups.
Online Harassment Summit: Time to Speak Out
There are always one or two sessions at SXSW that make the jaw drop, forever shifting personal awareness. Last year, University of Texas professor Ben Carrington’s look at “mega-events” (think Rio 2016) and social impact rocked my world. This year, “Women in the Media and Online Harassment” provided a profound moment.
Going through security prior to the session was a sobering comedown from the feel-good freedom at other presentations. Unfortunately, bag searches and audience agreements on what constitutes social discourse have become necessary in today’s vitriolic climate.
The focus in this session was on women because men’s experiences with harassment are quite different. The panelists first identified what constituted online harassment, before providing examples and information. I learned some ugly new terms: “doxxing” (exposing private documents and information online) and “swatting” (falsely sending emergency response teams, such as SWAT, to someone’s home).
There’s been some progress. For example, four years ago, “slut shaming” via social media was not considered bullying. As Davis pointed out, though, much work is needed to combat pervasive sexualizing and diminishing of women online. The session ended with recommendations for action:
- Soraya Chemaly (writer, activist, and director of Women’s Media Center Speech Project) suggested politically organizing to engage all sectors, putting social justice in the classroom and building communities and networks.
- Wendy Davis (former Texas senator, self-described as “recovering politician”) said to “pile on and be part of the conversation;” call online harassment what it is and be “as effective in shutting down offensive conversations as [the harassers] are in inciting them.” (Davis later announced her new initiative, “Deeds Not Words,” designed to provide young women with communication “toolkits” for launching social change.)
- Meredith Walker (co-founder and executive director of Amy Poehler Smart Girls, headquartered in Austin): “There needs to be heightened awareness for women who miss the point”–online harassment isn’t “just words.”
- Jamia Wilson (executive director of YTH, a social media advocacy resource for young adult health and wellness) said to change the message, women need to give feedback to the media…and that includes utilizing and owning outlets.
Quick SXSW Interactive Mentions
A photo posted by Dan Driscoll (@dbdriscoll) on
Gotta love a panel that puts a big retailer with small companies looking to help gear junkies unload their stuff. Austin’s Cindy Abbott Wood, mountain bike instructor with REI Outdoor School, and Dan Driscoll of reQwip joined Andrew Batey of Spinlister to talk about developing a sharing economy.
What was Twitter’s most talked about moment from the London’s 2012 Olympic Games? According to Danny Keens, head of Twitter’s North American Sports Partnerships, it was the Spice Girls taking the stage, with 150,000 tweets per minute. Keens said to be on the lookout for fun NCAA March Madness emoji, which were inspired by the “hash flags” created for the World Cup. The coolest thing Twitter has going? #MascotScope, which enables you to watch that college game from the viewpoint of (you guessed it) the team mascot.
I was really keen on catching Chris Urmson’s presentation, “Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.” These little cuties swarm the Mueller development like ladybugs in spring. Austin’s mayor Steve Adler even arranged for Conference of Mayors attendees to get a special ride during SXSW. However, live streaming of President Obama’s keynote address held up the auditorium. It was either wait in line or move on to the rest of the day’s events as planned.
That’s the problem with SXSW Interactive: there’s always something good to miss.
@leahruns100 wants to know:
What was the best #SXSWInteractive session you saw this year?