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Zen and the art of South by Southwest

I’m trying to figure out how to write this without sounding too grumpy. But I have to say that, in total, I’m pretty dissatisfied with South by Southwest. And that dissatisfaction stems almost entirely from the scale of the event. The numbers I heard was that attendance was in the 4,000-5,000 range.

Actually, the dissatisfaction is rooted in my inability to live in the present. Because of it’s size, there’s always a lot of things going on simultaneously at SXSW. And because I live in a world of continuous partial attention, I have trouble staying in the moment, as I want to optimize the potential of my experience, which means scanning the horizon for whatever might be better than what I’m doing right now.

Along with this is a paradox of choice problem. Monday night, there were no fewer than 5 simultaneous evening events that intrigued me. How do you commit? How do you feel good about that commitment?

And then there were the lines. I simply will not wait in a line to go to a club. But you couldn’t not wait in lines Monday night. Only then to enter that club, pressed against others, shouting to be heard.

What I realized, and what I need to do if I return to SXSW, is that in order to enjoy what SXSW Interactive has become (and boy, has it changed since 1999) I have to take a more Zen-like approach, ignoring all the Things I Could Be Doing, and focus on simply getting the most out of whatever I Am Doing.

  1. Peter, how is SXSW any different than the rest of life? It’s simply a microcosm. There’s always something else you could be doing, that might be better; someone else you could be doing, that might be better.

    I was glad to arrive at your last sentence in this post; at least you recognize that there *is* another approach besides Linda Stone’s latest catch phrase. 🙂

    Perhaps a better title would’ve been Zen and the Art of Becoming? That’s a better thing to strive for, eh?

  2. Ah yes–the kid in the candy store syndrome. Pretty irresistible.

    I assume that Gino is posing the false premise that doing something else “might be better” for the sake of irony, since we all know that there is nothing else better than the Krispy Kreme in the mouth — until it is swallowed. Only then is the next one even better.

  3. ha! i had exactly the same experience and exactly the same response. the one part i enjoyed more than any other was hanging out w you @ the end of the table @ the salt lick, where we were far enough away from everything that was happening with the conference that i could focus on just the thing (and the people) in front of me. that was a terrific afternoon.

    “leaf in the river” is what courtney calls it. i did that for the rest of the week, with music, and wow was it the right way to go. all sorts of interesting things happen when you decided to just go with it.

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