Mando's Strategy Director does SXSW... How did I even get here?

Sunglasses SXSW

About halfway across the Atlantic, between completing a piece of work on chatbots and watching the in-flight movie Arrival I got my head around the idea that I was actually going to get to South by Southwest. That connection – between my trip and an alien travelling to try and persuade people to use intelligent language systems that aren’t dependent on human notions of time constraints – is not lost on me. Obviously I’d look better in a Hazmat suit than Amy Adams, but whatever.

Part of the reason I’m going at all warrants its own black-comedy movie treatment. 16 hours before the flight I officially became the second (yes, second) substitute, brought blinking into the Georgia sunshine (I’m not in Texas yet) by a combination of unforeseeable family crises you could not make up, and coupled with a monumental flight cock-up I only detected last night that would have seen me flying out in November and – even after me “resolving” it at 9pm – flying back in September. 

Earlier in the day my computer prompted a mandatory reboot during the submission process for my ESTA (resulting in a race against the clock to fill in my credit card details… I lost), and all the necessary transfer communications that will actually give me an event ticket are still stuck in a system that “may take 48 hours to come through”. I feel a little like Tom Hanks in The Terminal; my destiny firmly out of my control.

However, the last minute nature of my trip does offer me a unique advantage in my time at #SXSWInteractive... the element of surprise.

I am utterly unprepared. Not in a kind of “Hey, let’s just go with the flow” kind of way. More in a “Hey, I understand Austin is a place not a car?” kind of way. That’s not cool. To be cool you at least need sunglasses and I didn’t pack any sunglasses. There might have been logic to what I did pack, but it’s the kind that only makes sense when you’re also mid-conversation with Expedia trying to explain you want to fly into a country before you fly out again. I may have more iPhone chargers than T-shirts.

I have no idea what’s going to be happening. 

None. 

At the time I can finally breathe and think about any of this, I’m also in one of the few place on planet earth (other than on the West coast main line) that you can’t get internet access. The few posts I saw this morning from people out there who do have a clue what they’re doing are focused a lot more on R&R than R&D, so I’m still essentially Clueless (apologies, unintended film reference that time).

So I’ve decided to approach the whole event with the wide-eyed innocence of that scene in A Bug’s Life where the protagonist Flik sees “The city!” Granted he does promptly nearly get run over, but the principle stands, right? My aim is therefore to absorb as much on intelligent future technology as they can throw at me. I’m hoping that a strong cocktail of enthusiasm, naivety, and espresso martini may yet see me through.

I’ve just arrived at Atlanta. There’s 956 miles to Austin. It’s not dark out and I’m not wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.

If you'd like to know more about my trip to SXSW 2017, get in touch via Twitter @mandoagency @jay_seal