SXSW: There is no Next Big Thing, at least not yet

Author: Nicole Taylor Managing Director DDB Sydney, and Darwin Tomlinson ECD
Tribal Worldwide Sydney

It seems a lot of us went to SXSW expecting an unveiling that never happened. We wanted to hear something we’d never heard – see whole new things that would amaze us. We were looking for the next Twitter. But rather than discovering a whole new way to connect, we instead made a lot of connections about things we already knew. The prevalent opinion seems to be that we are only just beginning to understand what we’ve created through technology and the internet. But amongst all of the conversations, three themes created a thread that hinted at a way to make some sense out of our hyper-connected world.

The permanence of data – for better and for worse

With simulcasts from both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, it was inevitable that privacy and use of data would be a big topic, and all sides of the debate were certainly represented. Google’s Erik Schmidt argued directly against the leaking of large volumes of data/information, questioning anyone’s ability to actually ascertain whether within large quantities of documents there might be information that could jeopardise public safety. Meanwhile, Upworthy founder Eli Pariser discussed how they are using behavioural data to ensure “important” news is being seen amidst the multitude of options available for consumption on the internet.

All of the discussions begged the unanswered questions of who has the right to data, when do they have that right, and are those in control of data capable of managing its use? While no one seemed to have the definitive answer, it was clear that the permanence of data will have both positive and negative outcomes for how we live our lives both publicly and privately – especially when our private behaviours become public information. With our virtual lives now permanent, the topic of social media education curriculums becomes important for future generations.

The evolution of wearable technology from fashion to health

Possibly the biggest topic at SXSW was about how quickly personal technology (e.g. “wearables”) is developing. Moving far beyond the examples we’ve seen already in fashion – communication functions of items like connected jewelry and even underwear – the technology we’ll soon be carrying on our person has the potential to completely revolutionise our health and standards of living. We’ve seen already the educational and motivational power that data can have on our fitness in products like FitBit, but that really is just the beginning. It seems very possible that we’ll soon be seeing wearable devices that can not only monitor our behaviours, but help to prevent illness as well.

The continuing rise of connected hardware against the plateau of connected communities

Not long ago we were all talking about social media and the sharing behaviours enabled by technology. It seems that the swell of that conversation has peaked, as these behaviours are now ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Where once we were talking about how to connect people, this year we were talking about how to connect things. As we saw with the popularity of the wearables topic, we seem to be focusing even more on developing the new devices that we will use and ensuring that they will work in harmony. From 3D printed food “on demand” to collaborative space exploration modules and “connected cars”, the implication for the internet of things will be not only a more connected society, but a more efficient and sustainable one.

In a future where technology increasingly drives programs for social good and general improvements for humanity, we will be hyper conscious of the data we create despite its use becoming even more invisible. Understanding how to utilise the flow of that data will be critical for any business to survive. The provision of tech-enabled solutions that can synthesise this data will be necessary for any type of business, and every type of role must understand how to connect these things we’ve already made. Because while there may not be a “next big thing” just yet, that understanding will prepare us for it when it does arrive.

Guest Author DDB Blog