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The Yin and the Yang of SXSW 2019

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INFLUENCER: R/GA's Megan Mills on themes, panels and sessions she's looking forward to at this year's festival

The Yin and the Yang of SXSW 2019

If you’ve ever attended SXSW, you know that planning your schedule requires dedication, tenacity, and manually weeding through hundreds of official and unofficial panels, talks, forums, activations, etc. As I began the exercise of plotting out a plan of attack for this year’s SXSW Interactive, I noticed a trend. While I of course found a plethora of programming focusing on AI, technology, and innovation, I also came across a wealth of panels, content, and activations around wellness, relationships, emotion and humanity.

I was surprised at first, but this dichotomy is not that shocking if you think about the growing interest in personal wellness, emotional intelligence, #MeToo movement, and companies and brands defining and aligning to a broader purpose.

Since the arrival of the web and then social media, the focus has been on accelerating our technology advancements and innovation at an incredibly fast pace. There has been a continual drive to beat, one-up, disrupt, and improve

These tech-driven innovations allow us to work faster, more efficiently, and remotely, at any time of day (or night). They also require less and less face-to-face human interaction and dialogue. While for some tasks this is infinitely valuable - why waste five minutes sitting on hold trying to schedule a dentist appointment, when you can make it through your app? But this shift also jeopardises the core value of intrapersonal interaction. 

And when you consider empathetic AI and other tech that can be 'programmed' or 'trained' to have more human feelings and interactions than we may receive from actual humans in our lives, it presents a potential threat for what we can bring to the table as humans.    

People are starting to realise the risk of a diminishing focus on creative thinking, emotional intelligence, and personal well-being that comes from a more emotive and human place. I’m certainly starting to adopt the occasional digital detox - forcing myself to step away from email, Slack, and texting to instead make an actual phone call, schedule a coffee or even walk over to a colleague’s desk to talk, debate, discuss, and resolve. 

Emotional intelligence and being more human is not just a trend - it’s beginning to manifest in a broader push by brands, startups, and others to focusing on our humanity. As I think about what I’m looking forward to most this year at the conference, it’s of course seeing and hearing about the coolest brand activations and tech innovations. 

I’m also eager to hear an in-person conversation between thoughtful people, seeing the emotion as someone recounts a personal story; the sidebar conversations; the reactions as others relate and connect with those stories, emotions, or moments. And I’m sure I won’t be the only attendee craving a non-digitised conversation about the impact of digital on our lives.

Panels and sessions that I’m looking forward to: 

• Fostering Positive Psychology in the Workplace

• Unleashing Creativity Through Mindfulness

• Smart Fights: Say What You Really Think at Work

• The Wellness Advantage: Why Smart Women Put Themselves First (non-official panel)



Megan Mills is account director at R/GA

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R/GA New York, Fri, 08 Mar 2019 15:55:37 GMT