The future of technology: A dispatch from South by Southwest 2022

March 14, 2022 by

By Mark Swanson

Last Friday marked the beginning – and return – of South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual interactive/film/music/culture festival held in my hometown of Austin, Texas. It’s a major landmark in the annual technology conference calendar and has been known to be the launching point for some of the biggest companies on the planet.

Much has changed since the last in-person event in 2019, but that’s to be expected. One of the (unofficial) central tenets of the interactive part of the festival is to take the current pulse of the tech sector and determine what trends are to come for the rest of the year.

For 2022, that’s not difficult to qualify. Web3 and all its parts (the metaverse, NFTs) are front and center as companies scramble to get a piece of the pie – even if they don’t know what that pie is.

So, what’s the talk at SXSW this year?

Web3 is the future, but nobody knows what that future is

Go into a crowded room and scream “crypto” and you’ll have a dozen business cards in a minute. There’s great enthusiasm over what it could represent and there have been some definite winners that have escaped the proof-of-concept phase to become established businesses. However, the industry is still very much in the dial-up phase. There are plenty of ideas and tons of enthusiasm, but fully-formed business plans with proven sustainability are still touch-and-go. Use cases for the blockchain, aside from cryptocurrency, are starting to gain traction – but are still walking instead of running.

There will be disruption to existing industries, but for technology, a significant part of the next generation of the internet will be built on the back of legacy companies. The need for data management and new applications isn’t going away.

The pandemic has made us more digital

The COVID-19 pandemic made us more comfortable with working virtually. Hoping on teleconferences is now a daily routine for many of us. With our work lives moving to a virtual existence, it’s natural that our personal lives will as well. The metaverse is just the next leap. I didn’t really “get” the metaverse until I saw my nine-year old niece playing in a virtual world with her friends on a normal tablet. Separated from the social aspects of school, during important formative years, time in a digital environment was as close of a replacement as she could get. It was easy for her to drop in, control her avatar, and communicate with her squad, with a low barrier of entry.

The same can be said for older generations. We’re used to more digital intrusion in our lives and are likely going to see that increase. VR travel experiences or storytelling may become suitable, low-cost replacements for real-life adventures. There needs to be more hardware investment – I know I can’t leave a headset on for more than 10 minutes without getting a headache – but the potential remains.

Change is inevitable, but the principals remain the same

As fast as the world has changed the last two years, the basic ideas of the Internet Age persist. The movement, storage, and security of data is at the heart of most of what we do every day. For the thousands of companies in Austin this week, that remains potently relevant and failure to deliver on that is highly damaging to them and to their customers.

SXSW is massive and overwhelming, but the conversations and creativity that come from it make the sore feet worth it. If you’re ever in town for one or have questions, please reach out.

P.S. The Unbelievable Weight of Massive Talent is Nick Cage at his most Nick Cage (in the best way) and is well worth seeing when it releases.

Mark Swanson is the IT Storyteller for the NetApp on NetApp program.