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SXSW 2011: Up for Air at (Almost) the Halfway Mark

Greetings from Austin, earthlings. I have been here for four days (five? four? five) and have lost all sense of time and perspective. It’s what happens at South By Southwest — enjoyably (for the most part). You get lost in a sea of free drinks, companies trying to convince you that their apps are going to save the world, inspiring speakers, swooning geeklets bringing Felicia Day cupcakes because she said she likes them, drunk guys on Sixth Street trying not to barf in the gutter, amusing movie screenings filled with nerds who chortle at every reference to their beloved nerd culture (guilty as charged), presentations that might actually help with your personal productivity issues, insight on everything from adapting comics for the big screen to the consistent need for authenticity from creators — and the discovery that Fireball Whiskey makes a whiskey and ginger ale taste like liquid Red Hots (with apologies to my elegant-cocktail-mixing bartender friends: this shit is kind of delicious).

If you see a theme there involving drinks, well, SXSW does this thing where we all pack into the convention center by day, learning and listening and, say, developing elaborate arguments about why the gamification (gameification? It’s a made-up word either way) of the world is just another way to keep the people down — and then 6 pm rolls around and the panels wind down and the parties start. And by 10 pm you wonder how anyone is functional the next day. Foursquare calls you a panel nerd for going to three panels and suggests you go to bars to avoid being thrown in a locker. You can get a Guinness milkshake at your arty movie screening. (You can also fall asleep at your arty movie screening. Perhaps the couches at the Ritz are not the best idea for a tired festivalgoer.)

It’s debauchery and inspiration in nearly equal parts, with a side order of aggravation. And I love it. In the next week or so, I’ll be posting film reviews, music round-ups and more. Possibly a rant or two (I’ve got a few issues with the notion that, to quote Christopher Poole, “Anonymity is authenticity”). So far, the theme of this year’s SXSW (as I’ve experienced it) is twofold:

1. Everybody has an iPad. EVERYBODY. (Not me.)
2. The game layer is coming.

According to the nerds in the know, we’re moving from the decade of communication to the decade of games, the game layer, gamification, game mechanics, etc. More on this later. Short version: I’m wary of the notion of shifting from a culture of communication (as evidenced by Facebook and other social networks) to a culture of competition and think we need a good old Jaron Lanier-style hard look at what exactly this means. Maybe that’ll happen next year.

Meanwhile, is there something you’d do if you were in Austin? A show or a film you wouldn’t miss? I’m happily taking suggestions for how to spend the rest of my time here. Leave ‘em in the comments, or email molly at eugeneweekly dot com.

(Lest you think it's all fun and games and booze while the world ends, there's also SXSW4Japan.org.)