This past week Austin hosted their annual South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. SXSW is a multi-sensory experience of interactive tech, film, and music. As a panelist and entrepreneur presenting a talk on “Transforming Social Media for the Senior Community,” I arrived expecting an insider’s look at the magicians who make millions “knowing-what’s-next.”
Outside of Silicon Valley, Austin has emerged as “the other” tech heartland, and has been given the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Silicon Hills.” SXSW is not a suit and tie event – as hipsters, geek-punks, and everything alternative abounds. Participants attend Panel presentations in the morning, and there are plenty of parties every evening. You shouldn’t ever have to pay for food or drink – Google, AT&T, and even Chevy provide ample accommodations.
What did I learn at SXSW? Senior Internet statesman Tim O’Reilly was most inspiring. His conversation with MIT’s Andrew Mcafee on “Creating more value than you capture” reminded me of why over 15 years ago I made myself a home on the open standards based, sometimes subversive Internet. O’Reilly cited the good news of how Internet innovators like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have created a rich ecosystem of opportunity. But then he pointed out that like Microsoft before them, they consume more and more of the opportunity for themselves and leave less and less on the table for others – not good for new innovation, not good for the economy.
The best part of SXSW is the community. I made friends who won hack-a-thons writing new apps that made health fun for kids, and had morning coffee each day with a grad student who wore a body monitor in a sleep deprivation competition for a wellness company. I admired AARP’s “social media maven of cool” Beth Carpenter as she surfed the Twitter stream, met new tech friends, and then cross-pollinated the whole mess of people in gatherings at places like Google Village.
Technology is transforming the quality of lives, our wellness, and our experience as a community, yet at SXSW there was an absence of innovation reported for those who are 50 plus. As members of largest and fastest growing demographic in the United States, I quickly realized that senior adults need to share tech success stories with the world and have more engagement with the vast talent pool of innovators and entrepreneurs found at places like SXSW. Perhaps at next year’s SXSW we can share senior adult tech innovations at our own Meet-ups, hack-a-thons, and after hours parties. Subversive, even disruptive innovation should be encouraged – and at South By Southwest it’s expected.
Brian Lang is the Chief Executive Officer of Seniors In Touch. Mr. Lang is also the author of the best selling guide for families from the 90s called “Making the Internet Family-friendly,” and recent contributor of "Social Media Sucess for Senior Living" to April's Continnum, the journal of The American College of Healthcare Adminstrators.