I should have been blogging the whole time. Should have plodded around with my powerbook and welcome bags, in my heels, throughout the Austin Convention Center for South By Southwest (SXSW), at the ready with my business card, complete with how to reach me on Twitter and Facebook. But I didn’t. And after a day of “shoulds,” when I’d plow into bed at night, about the last thing I felt like doing was slogblogging: that is, powering through it because people expect it.
A lot of people think South By Southwest is an airline. And the ones who don’t, think it’s a Georgia O’Keefe painting. It’s technically a festival–but without the parades and jumping castle–split into three parts: Music, Film, and Interactive. It’s not a festival with fried dough and bags of powdered sugar, and as of this year, there weren’t any carni folk or “Guess My Weight” booths. It’s not so much a “fest,” in that there are no lawns of topless women painting one another with non-toxic, make love not war, paint. It’s a convention with name tags.
There are films. There are concerts. There are parties. There are book signings, readings, and orchestrated “core conversations.” And there are panels. Lots of panels. Panels on books to blogs with allstars like Guy Kawasaki, wisdom from Hugh MacLeod, practical advice from Kate Lee, and a new personal favorite of mine Pam Slim.
And, quite frankly, it’s overwhelming. Not in that Disney world, “Oh my God, which ride do I go on first?” way, but in that, shoulds way. It’s very middle child syndrome, where you wonder if the truly good moments are happening to other people. Should you be somewhere else? What are you going to miss that everyone else will be talking about? Where should you be to meet the “should meet” people? SXSW, along with any other convention for that matter, is a carnival of shoulds. Even when you tell yourself you don’t care. Unless, that is, you’re only there for the city. If you’re there to meet up with friends, to have dinners, to see the sights, it’s another story entirely. But then why sign up for panels? Why not plan a proper vacation? Because I’m guessing it’s a little of both, and that’s okay. It’s okay to want to be noticed. It’s okay to want to stay or be relevant. You just can’t let your whole world be dictated by it. Because, then, all the joy is sucked right out and you’re left with shoulds. On the whole, all these conventions are the same. As I wrote to a reader in Germany via Twitter: People go to #sxsw to either become more well known or to sustain their “social currency.” On some level it’s a circle jerk.
There might not have been a Ferris wheel at the festival, but last night’s closing interactive party at La Zona Rosa did have a mechanical bull. As I watched a crowd form, with their “SXSWi Closing Party” koozies in hand, I couldn’t help but think about what an unusul source of entertainment it was. I know Jesters have been around for centuries, that matadors exist, with crowds of ticketholders who’ve paid good money to watch an animal, or man, die. But standing ringside last night, amid a hoard of people, gathering ’round to basically watch you fail, I wondered how to glean a “half full ” perspective. I’m standing beside a man whose tee shirt reads, “PANTS ON YOUR HEAD RETARDED,” as I watch a balding man with a long ponytail grind up against a leather hide. A crowd might cheers you on, but it’s basically waiting for the ride to get rough, to see when and how you’ll fall. It’s, frighteningly enough, a lot like blogging.
When the men turned to me and asked if I wanted to get up and grab the bull by the horns, I responded like a redhead on Saint Patrick’s Day, “If you buy me nine more drinks.” Then to my friend, “Are they kidding? I’m in heels and have a blister on my foot. Do I really want a blister on my vaja?” Then, for a brief moment, I considered paying a well-endowed woman to mount the bull, only to rip off her bra to reveal STEPHANIEKLEIN.COM penned across her goodie bags. But then I thought, nah, not the traffic I’m going for.