How to survive SXSW in 15 easy steps

SXSW
Image Credit: Lotus Carroll

So, you got roped, tricked, or coerced into attending SXSW Interactive, which starts in less than three weeks, on March 7. Or you’re a cock-eyed, optimistic noob who thinks it will be a geeky love-fest full of valuable content and networking with your peers.

If you don’t want to come home an avian flu vector with a soul-sucking case of ennui and lack of faith in humanity and technology, follow these rules.

Just — follow them. We know of what we speak.

  1. Don’t go.
    No one has fun at this thing. It’s full of bros and douchenozzles. You’ll come home sick, broke, disheartened, and unprepared to socialize with anyone for at least two weeks.
  2. Seriously, just don’t go.
    Your company is making you do this, isn’t it? Tell your boss that there is honestly no business value in going to SXSW. Tell your PR agency to go blow itself. Make a spreadsheet showing the costs (huge) and benefits (branding is not a real benefit). Then call in sick or miss your flight or “forget” to book a hotel room.
  3. Don’t drink.
    Technology is a nation of high-functioning (more or less) alcoholics. Put us all together and what do you get? A herd of rude, hungover assholes with compromised immune systems. So if you do go, don’t drink. Except water. Drink lots and lots of that.
  4. Don’t talk to anyone.
    As an introvert, I can assure you that people are horrible. Especially strangers. Most especially strangers with germs and “a killer idea no one is doing right now.” Unless you fancy inhaling a new strain of flu virus while some idiot pitches you on an Airbnb for oil tankers, just avoid talking to anyone.
  5. If you must talk, wear a flu mask and use hand sanitizer.
    They called me a fool for wearing a flu mask at CES. But guess what, birches: I was the one who didn’t get so much as a headache the entire time. Plus, you can get really cute masks on eBay now. Mine made the bottom half of my face look like a dia de los muertos sugar skull. Minimally, use lots of hand sanitizer, especially after shaking hands and before eating, and gargle with Listerine more often than you think you need to.
  6. Eat copiously, but not communally.
    Eating lots of protein, fruits, and veggies will help you keep your strength, energy, and immunity levels high. Come on, people, this is third grade material. Your mom knows this stuff. Do eat the barbecue, but don’t do so at a crowded spot in Austin proper. Try the Salt Lick. And whatever you do, don’t eat anything that comes on a passed tray or in a chafing pan. People have been touching that with their filthy hands.
  7. Take your vitamins.
    This all goes back to the immunity theme. If you haven’t guessed it yet, illness is one of the worst things that can kill your SXSW experience.
  8. Sleep about 12 hours a day.
    Do this for your health, sure, but also do it because you need your “you time.” You’re going to be around weirdos, strangers, and social media experts all day and all night. The least you can do is get room service, take a bath, turn on the TV, and nap it out.
  9. Don’t go to the parties.
    SXSW parties are loud, crowded, and not usually of high quality, socially speaking. Instead, schedule a more intimate kick-back sesh in an off-the-beaten-path bar or hotel lounge with some of your friends, old and new. You’ll have a lot more fun, stay healthier, and not have to shout or wait 30 minutes for a cheap beer.
  10. Don’t hook up with strangers.
    Sure, lots of people will be doing it. But break this rule, and it may haunt you for life. You have no idea who that other person is. S/he could be a social media expert. Eww. Or a potential client. Or a total psycho. Or a flu virus-carrying germ factory.
  11. Wear comfortable shoes.
    You will be walking around all day long. And the parties will be outdoors or in the grass or at a dank bar with a sticky floor or up a flight of rickety stairs, to name but a few real-world scenarios I experienced during my last trip to Austin. Comfy shoes make all the difference.
  12. Leave your electronics at home.
    You probably won’t need your laptop. Maybe bring a keyboard for your tablet. Take your smartphone. Bring an extra battery, or a Mophie case to extend your phone’s battery life. But other than that, leave it at home. If you’re a pictures person, bring a camera, but not your top-of-the-line model (unless you’re getting paid for photography). I’ll be honest: Shit gets stolen at SXSW. This isn’t a cozy get-together of close-knit Internet nerds anymore. I had a laptop stolen in 2011. In 2012, someone ransacked the VB video set in a private hotel suite. So exercise restraint in the gadgets field. And for the love of Sergey, do not wear Google Glass.
  13. Book on Craigslist.
    The city of Austin has been cracking down on Airbnb hosts, and the hotels book up months in advance. My best-ever SXSW lodging experiences were a whole-house rental with some friends (Craigslist), and an Airstream trailer with my significant other (also Craigslist).
  14. Forget about biking.
    Your bike will get stolen. Plus, you’ll end up getting drunk, and drunk cycling never ends too well. I had a great SXSW on rollerskates once, but your mileage may vary. Pedicabs are plentiful and painless. Cabs are nonexistent (and streets are congested or blocked off entirely). Walking is free.
  15. Stay for Music.
    After all the stress of SXSW’s digital sessions, treat yo self to some bands you’ve never heard of and a few conversations with non-techies. So refreshing. Just remember: Once the nerd conf ends, you will suddenly realize you’re old, overweight, and not nearly as cool as you thought you were three days ago.

To sum up: Take care of your body and soul. Exercise frugality and common sense for lodging and transportation. Practice restraint with strangers, and set your expectations low for sessions and social events. And try not to complain too much, or SXSW Interactive board member Brad King will get super pissed at you.


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