A South by Southwest Guide to Surviving the Nerdpocalypse
~ by Brad King
Nearly twenty years ago, I attended my first South by Southwest conference. At this point in my life, I have no idea about the specifics. I couldn’t tell you what I did and whom I met. All I know is the experience changed my life for the better.
I loved the conference – and the city – so much that I moved there in 1995. (And again in 2002 after I left Wired.) In the ensuing years, I returned to the conference every year. I returned for Music, then for Interactive, and finally for Film. Now, I return for them all.
I have done this conference as press, as an attendee, as a panelist, as a moderator, as an emcee, and always as a nerd. These days I do some panel vetting as part of the Advisory Board, I evangelize about the conference and I’ll be emcee’ing the Accelerator for the third year.
I tell you all of this narcissistic pabulum as a way to convince you that what I’m about to tell you has some merit or weight to it. Of course, this being SXSW Interactive you are more than willing to – well – interact with this content however you’d like. (And I know you will my Nerdikins.)
What I’d like to offer you is my SXSW Guide to Surviving the Nerdpocalypse (and my handy dandy map to all things Not-SXSW related in Austin that you must do):
PART I: Your General Health
- Wear Comfortable Shoes: I’m not the first to say this nor am I the last. But trust me on the sunscreen. Er, shoes. You will be walking all over Thor’s creation and by the end of day one, your feet will be barking. Big deal, you say, it’s only one day. Yeah, SXSW replies, there are 5 more days of this. (11 if you’re tough and stay the whole time.)
- Drink Water: Runners know this to be true. You don’t wait until you’re thirsty to hydrate. You hydrate while you go. There is booze everywhere. You will not be sleeping. You will be surrounded by 12,000 germ-infested Nerdizens on Spring Break.
- Sleep: Every year, the post-SXSW Plague strikes down thousands of Nerds. South by Southwest is like kindergarten: a petri dish of illness waiting to happen. Got some down time: take a freaking nap. You’re missing something for sure. But you’ll be missing something every second of the conference. There’s too much going on.
- Run…in the morning: It’s hot in Texas. Really. Freaking. Hot. If you aren’t used to it, it will get you. You are not badass. You are not tough. You are a human in a really hot climate. (In the summer, it’s not uncommon to have 100 degree weather.) Plan on getting your outdoor exercise out of the way early. Maybe it will be mild. But don’t chance it.
Part II: The Conference (Shit Not To Do)
- There Are No Cabs: Austin wasn’t made to house tens of thousands of people massing downtown. It’s a slow-moving, mosey type of town. You will not get a cab. And if you do, you shall wait at least an hour for said cab. At least. If it comes at all. You will not get a cab.
- You Can’t See Everything: There are more than 300 panels going on. There are 10 different venue locations. This means you can’t see everything. Don’t try. You will not enjoy yourself if you try. Pick out a few topics you want to learn more about and find a few panels.
- Don’t Show Up Just In Time: If you show up at the last minute to panels, keynotes, parties…really anything, expect to wait. And don’t expect that wait to yield entrance. And really don’t expect your name to help you line jump.
- Don’t Just Hang With Your Friends: If you spend all your time with the people you already know, you’re missing the point of South by Southwest. It’s cool to have a posse. It’s cooler to have a new posse every day.
- Big Parties Are For Suckers: You think you want to go to the big parties. You hear there’s an open bar. The music will be kicking, you say. Maybe that’s true. You won’t notice though because the line is around the block. Plus, there’s no place to sit. And you can’t hear anybody. Or get back to the bar.
- You Are Not Famous: Austin in home to Mike Judge, Sandra Bullock, the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. You – no matter who you are – are not famous. Most of the people staffing these events are Austin-ites. Name dropping yourself will only make you look foolish. Unless you are Richard Linklater. Then you are famous and you should totally name drop.
- Don’t Write That SXSW Sucks Post-Conference Blog: Some of you will want to. You’ll ignore these rules. You’ll get locked out of a party. You’ll find there are no V.I.P. rooms at a conference with the name “Interactive” and be bummed. You’ll find that when the nerds gather, few people are impressed with Internet fame. You’ll want to rip off a “SXSW Sucks” blog. My advice: don’t do it. Because Google Alerts never misses a blog, and you’ll likely be back at some point in the future. And the database doesn’t forget. It’s okay to criticize. It’s okay to be brutal. But don’t be petty about it.
Part III: The Conference (Shit To Do To Rock SXSW’s Face Off)
Also be sure and catch the 2012 follow up: