With nearly two full weeks (and nights) of activities, you quickly realize that SXSW isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. It’s as grueling as a 26-mile race, especially when adjusting from an ecstatic, packed conference room to another mundane queue, to a fun, low-key rooftop party. And like the shared experience of race running, a camaraderie forms among you and your fellow SXSW attendees. It’s an ever-evolving subculture, built on previous conferences but with a new shorthand every single year. Being a SXSW attendee is exhilarating, and a slog and you know you’re not at any other conference when:
Your fluency in swag is expert-Level. Upon your arrival, you know that your almost empty Interactive Swag Bag is not the end of your swag trick-or-treating, but the beginning. Your mantra is “all swag is good swag,” but you begin to evaluate new freebies with the discerning eye of a Sotheby’s appraiser, weighing the nuanced pros and cons of everything from free tacos, to skateboards to free digital downloads. (3-piece candleholder? Sorry, you don’t make the cut.)
You just lent a charger to a CEO. With tens of thousands of driven, smart, and eager attendees crammed into a few-block radius, you’ve casually found yourself next to big thinkers and even actors and musicians who are just getting a snack or grabbing themselves a beer. You’ve learned to chat up the folks around you, knowing the person rearranging all the laminates around his neck while waiting for a happy hour cocktail could be the startup founder with the perfect bootstrapping advice that changes how you think about your company.
You move like a human pinball. Can’t get into the panel you hoped for? No problem, you have three back-ups. A new contact’s hot tip puts an unforeseen event on your radar? You jump at it. Like the mighty pinball, your movements are quick, repetitive, and calculated. You know you’re not playing for points, but that continuing to move, learn, and network means getting the high score.
You can’t believe it’s morning again. SXSW is a blur, a marathon of faces, places and ideas. You hop from panel to panel, party to party, scanning #sxsw on Twitter so you don’t miss a thing. When you wake – likely in last night’s blazer – you realize that there’s an event at 9 A.M. you wanted to get to and you do it all again.
You complain about SXSW. Maybe you’re new to the event and just overwhelmed. Or maybe you’re a veteran and find yourself talking about the good ol’ days. Those were the times, you’ll say, that SXSW was something special. Back then, there was magic! A chance encounter could lead you to your next boss or even a lifelong friendship. The event was smaller then, more elite. You say this, and even mean this, but you know you’re already planning for next year.
Take your own shot at finishing this sentence: You know you’re a SXSW attendee when…”