Having just returned from the Interactive portion of SXSW in Austin, I was struck by the emphasis now being placed on Health. Of course that’s why I attended in the first place, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a separate venue in the Hilton, entirely devoted to Health. From technology and startups, to new theories, ideas, trends, personalities and panels, the Health portion of the show, at least from a presentation standpoint, didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately the tradeshow floor, across the street in the convention center had no health related exhibitors to speak of. I suppose this is because the idea was to keep Health contained to the Hilton but my question would be, as large as Health was this year, I wonder how much longer before it warrants a separate segment entirely at SXSW, like Interactive or Film?
Just gauging from the SXSW mobile app, and then actually spending the better part of four days at the Hilton, there appeared to be thousands of Health focused attendees present this year, which was wonderful, but not necessarily for the reason you might expect. Yes, it’s great to get a bunch of like-minded health folks together in one place, but the end result is usually something like Digital Pharma – a legitimate show in its own right, but one that can at times, feel a bit stale. Like you’ve read about it and seen it and maybe even come up with some funny acronyms, but the conference itself only serves to add validation to what you’ve already been thinking and reading about for awhile – networking aside.
This is where SXSW differs considerably. Forget cool industry personalities and new technology launches, they have it, we know it, but let’s consider what’s really going on. This is digital, social and mobile pioneering…the fringe…a petri dish of ideas contaminating the minds of thousands of attendees willing to bear the outrageous prices and swarming crowds. But, like with any germ, some people try to prevent the spread and remembrance through excessive use of alcohol…I’m not talking about Purell. And that’s fine. But for the rest of us who are down to witness and participate in pioneering, this is the place to be because there is a legitimate newness to what is being presented and discussed. Granted, some ideas are so fringe (see boxer shorts with air bags) that they literally evoke laughs upon presentation. But I am much more willing to sit through a few of those ideas to find true innovation, than to sit through semi-fresh ideas that have been under a heat lamp for days before being packaged and served as hot.