Hello from SXSW!

It’s day one. Innovators have flown in from all over the world to make Austin, Texas their home for the week as we take on topics of creativity, new technology, and how to make a better, more connected world.

Temperatures are cold in Austin, but spirits are high as SXSW 2022 marks the first time in two years that the festival is officially in person and relatively back to normal since the outbreak of COVID-19. So we put on an extra layer and headed over to the Convention Center this morning to begin the festival festivities with exactly what we needed – new ideas and inspiration.


🚨 Fjord Design Trends 2022 🚨 via @jasminefuego 🎤 #SXSW #SXSW2022 #skillshare #techtok

♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

The Latest in Content

We got into the weeds of content – what’s new, what’s next, and how to keep creating content even when everything feels like it’s falling apart around (or within you).

In Variety Intelligence Platform’s The Future of Content, we delved into the current media landscape, which, to few people’s surprise, is dominated by the likes of Alphabet and Meta. Both companies own over 50% of the current digital ad share, but it’s worth noting that players like Amazon and TikTok are starting to eat away at their strong stake and are ones to watch.

“If I see one major trend that’s going to impact not just TikTok but all social, it’s social e-commerce… it’s going to be big and TikTok is going to lead the way there,” Andrew Wallenstein notes. What might get in its way? Regulation. Misinformation, data protection, and antitrust are top concerns.

Other trends the VIP+ team noted were around mergers and acquisitions to grow a larger stake in the world of content, and of course everyone’s biggest buzzword: the metaverse. But Wallenstein was not so keen to throw all the eggs in the metaverse basket. 

“Right now, the hype is too big to ignore,” he explains. NFTs are where the current energy is, but it’s important to focus on where the most activity in this world is growing and that’s around things like Fortnite and Roblox. Young, communal, interactive, a nd game based audiences are spearheading the majority of growth in this sector. And while Meta is betting big on Oculus Quest and every single tech giant is developing something within the metaverse, over half the market still doesn’t understand what the term is so we may want to temper our expectations around mass adoption.

Another big area of focus for the session was the creator economy – a subject near and dear to our hearts at Skillshare. The creator economy is booming, and never more so than in a pandemic and post-pandemic world. There are 50 million creators across 50 or so platforms, with every major platform looking to get into this world (and creators increasingly getting paid for their following and their incredible content). And guess what? Skillshare teachers are an active part of that creative community and creator economy. Learn more about that here.

Next up, we ventured over to another Featured Session, “Creating in a Shit Storm,” hosted by the Patreon. The emphasis of this session was all about finding ways to unlock yourself creatively, while also not necessarily heeding the advice of others. In fact, Jack Conte noted frequently how much he hates advice talks and how we are ourselves the only people who can determine who should steer our own ships. That said, he did break down some handy tips that creative folks may find useful in getting out of a block.

Broken down simply, we covered four major areas: custom design, the inspiration machine, subtraction, and “we are not alone.”

Jack suggested using the idea of custom design to navigate hurdles that you may be having as a creative or even as a community or company. Understanding your circumstance through custom design basically falls into a few key areas: exploring and clarifying what’s wrong by asking questions, defining a clear problem statement, brainstorming options for solutions, and then fleshing out a plan.

In order to clarify what’s wrong and explore the problem, you may consider asking any number of questions. Examples Jack provided include: how am I feeling? Why? Where is it coming from? Are there any narratives I’ve invented that lead me in the wrong direction? What’s really bothering me? In what ways am I causing my problems? How many different problems are there? What’s the root cause? Is anything going well? What? Why? What are my options? What are the tradeoffs? What hard lessons am I learning right now that might help me otherwise?

Next up, you can consider trying to solve these questions through writing. The benefit to writing is that sometimes it can bring its own clarity – the simple act takes us out of the spirals we sometimes get in our heads if we’re just thinking things through, and brings us to crystallization that much faster.

Once you’ve defined the clear problem statement, it’s that much easier to get to brainstorming options. Again, try writing these out. Write all possible solutions out and then see if you can find any insights within your brainstorm. Are there similar themes? Can they be grouped together to find a solution? And from there you’ll get to the point where you can flesh out a plan.

“There’s no piece of wisdom from the outside from an external source that can sort out problems for us. Our specific problems and solutions require personal investigation and analysis, through custom design… and focusing on the things that matter.”

Next up, Jack encouraged something called “the Inspiration Machine” – which is basically finding what works for you to jumpstart your sense of creativity. For him, it’s watching videos of Gary Vee. It brings him into a place where inspiration can be triggered and he can go from staring at a blank page to getting in a state of flow to create.

We then dove into the concept of subtraction. Here, we may go back to the method of asking ourselves a lot of questions if we are feeling blocked: what can we subtract in order to get to our goal? What are we doing that isn’t helping us hit these goals? What can be simpler? Where is our time going? What feels draining? Which activities are getting us closer to our goals? Which are holding us back?

What we might find is that by the nature of us simply taking too much on, we’re getting in our own way. So remove things, find simpler solutions, and unlock a truer and more accessible form of expression. In essence, it’s all about radical prioritization, not only for the productivity benefits but for the intrinsic benefit to our mental health.

Lastly, Jack finished on a harrowing-yet-uplifting note. Simply: we are not alone. He posited that we are lonely because content is not life. And while we are consuming the internet more than ever before, we are consuming content, not life. We spend more and more time not being our true selves and not seeing the true selves in others. People are behaving as companies and systems and less like humans. And so, quite simply, he left us with the directive to behave as ourselves. Or don’t, because what as noted, advice is loathsome.

SXSW Keynote Session with Alexis McGill Johnson

We headed over to the Austin Convention Center for a keynote discussion between Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson and actress and advocate Busy Phillips. In their riveting discussion, they covered the current landscape for women’s health, the role Planned Parenthood plays, and the challenges the organization faces in the current political environment. 

Talking Metaverse – or Lack Thereof

We caught a fascinating panel called Metawhat? The Future of Real World Entertainment, led by Disney Imagineering veterans and current leads from Zeitgeist, Meow Wolf, Spatial, and Nightscape. The focus of the panel was on creating real-life immersive experiences for people now and in the future.

Backed by the creative minds who innovated new Disney attractions as well as Meow Wolf’s groundbreaking experiences in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Denver, the panel sought to define what audiences want out of experiential entertainment. From looking at audiences as floaters (those who want to passively engage), swimmers (those who look for some form of interaction), and divers (those who want to see and experience every piece of the puzzle, the discussion veered from addressing current audience expectations through to future visioning. A common thread remained though: while technology is important to the next generation of real life entertainment, it exists to empower the experience. Ali Rubinstein of Meow Wolf went so far as to say that they believe that less technology is going to become a thing. Joe Lanzisero of Zeitgeist drew the connection through to Walt Disney himself, who had one foot in the past and one foot in the future. The past was what connected Disney to the brand he pioneered, as well as to the essential importance of creating things for shared human experience. The foot in the future allowed Disney to embrace new technology, and look at it with curiosity rather than judgment.

Seeing is Believing: A Meow Wolf Installation

From Meow Wolf’s “Glitch City” at SXSW Day One
From Meow Wolf’s “Glitch City” at SXSW Day One

Moving just one door over from the Metawhat panel takes you into the multidimensional world of Meow Wolf. If you’re not familiar with the creative collective and immersive experience designers, they have masterminded whole worlds accessed through refrigerator doors and grocery stores inspired by past eras. Sound weird? That’s what makes it magical.

Their latest immersive experience is a pop-up at the Sunset Hall called Glitch City. Made up of various islands, you can walk through the majestic space and get lost in the colors, lighting, and soundscape, or engage with it further. Each island has a QR code that reveals more of its backstory. We’ll leave the mystery to those who get to experience it, but true to Meow Wolf form, it’s an experience worth immersing yourself fully in.

What’s Next for Us at SXSW

Stay tuned here for more SXSW coverage tomorrow, as we dive back into the creator economy, NFTs, and so much more! 

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