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A Short Strange Trip to the South by Southwest Festival

March 15, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

Austin, Texas — I went to South by Southwest for the first
time since 2002. My how times have changed.

Back then, I was a law student on spring break, looking for a
good time and finding it at this quaint little music festival that
had just started gaining national acclaim. Sixteen years later, as
a grizzled policy wonk with a newborn and a toddler at home, I was
looking for sleep more than diversion. This was a business trip
— I was there to speak at a First Amendment event organized
by the Newseum Foundation — and any entertainment was mere
happenstance.

Luckily, SXSW delivered again, with a disorienting mix of trendy
tech panels and sweaty queues to nowhere. The music festival
didn’t even start till after I returned to the real
world.

Luckily, the festival
delivered again, with a disorienting mix of trendy tech panels and
sweaty queues to nowhere.

But apparently I wasn’t the target demographic. It’s
not that “South by” doesn’t necessarily cater to
40-year-olds specializing in constitutional law and dad jokes, but
that it’s a “safe space for the resistance.” Indeed,
there was even an avant-garde music/art program incorporating yarn
and wires into something called “Conductors and
Resistance.” (Get it?)

In other words, I had somehow stumbled into Davos for the
hipster set.

“Artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and the
ever-more-fraught relationship between platform and publisher felt
like some of the other themes du jour, but,” that Vanity Fair write-up described in an
on-the-nose summary, “much of the buzz revolved around Donald
Trump.” And not just the president himself, but an alternate
universe where trust-fund babies compete with would-be Keith
Olbermann go-fers for a place on Al Gore’s latest
cross-platform startup.

Just look at some of the presentations on offer: Let’s
Tech the Borders Down, Return on Inclusion: Investing in Diverse
Startups, The Authoritarian Playbook, Diversity and Inclusion in
the Sports Industry, RompHims and Boyfriend Jeans: Ungendering
Fashion, Why Ethereum Is Goint to Change the World, and of course
Jake Tapper’s interview of Bernie Sanders. (Not to be
confused with the Bernie Sanders impersonator — not Larry
David — who conducted a town hall.) And that’s just the
first day!

I actually attended the CNN opening-night party referenced in
the aforelinked piece. It was crowded and the apple old fashioneds
were too sweet. I missed Dan Rather and David Axelrod — at
least Brian Stelter attended my panel — but you’ll
excuse me for skipping a return visit to that venue for Axe’s
interview of Jon Lovett the next morning in order to work out.

By the time I got to the New York Times party, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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