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The 14 Talks You Should Be Watching at SXSWi

Austin Travel
by Jason Wire Mar 10, 2012
Hundreds of seminars, speeches, talks, and gatherings…and only five days to fit it in. Here are some highlights you shouldn’t miss.

Keeping Loyal Consumers Engaged by Shaking Shit Up – Maybe you read Thrillist. Maybe you don’t — personally, I think it’s possibly the most poorly written lifestyle guide on the web, but one thing’s for certain: they get some mo’truckin traffic. This talk features Thrillist CEO Ben Lerer, who’s been ahead of the Web 2.0 curve for quite some time, quadrupling their revenue by never staying stagnant.

Rethinking Civilization for the Social Age – Even fifteen years ago, nobody could have predicted (well, except for maybe our buddy Ray…but we’ll get to him) that the Internet would be the driving force in multiple revolutions in places where most Americans don’t even think about having the Internet. This talk will discuss the Internet’s impact not only on social change and communication, but how it is forcing us to rethink our most basic societal structures like finance, government, and education.

This Will Blow Your Mind: The Prius-Inspired Bike – Sure, the Prius scores 50mpg in around-town driving. But riding your bike gets you the equivalent of like 18 times that. So what does a bicycle have to learn from a Prius? A lot, apparently. Folks who attend this talk will get a behind-the-scenes look at how the team from Toyota Prius Projects created their PXP concept bike — “including a helmet that enables a cyclist to switch gears through ‘thought-sensitive’ technology.”

The Secret Lives of the Brain – We’ve all heard the oversimplified platitude about humans only using 10% of our brains. Well, neuroscientist and best-selling author David Eagleman is ready to draw back the curtain and explain what’s going on in the rest of it, and how “most of what you do, think and believe is generated by parts of your brain to which you have no access.” Sounds like a trip.

We Made This, And It’s Not an Ad – The world of advertising looks utterly different from what it was just 10 years ago. You can’t roll out a new product these days without designing an entire reality TV / amateur filmmaker competition around it. Robbie Whiting, Director of Creative Tech & Production at Duncan/Channon, takes a lot at this evolutionary process and where it might lead us in the future. A must for ad-nerds, and no doubt damn interesting for the rest of us.

Why Happiness is the New Currency – In case you weren’t able to make it through the chunkily worded synopsis on the sxsw site, this presentation focuses on web and mobile companies can create a leverage the “happiness moment” in users. Sounds super dystopian and definitely sparked our interest.

Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV – You’ve no doubt experienced “transmedia” even if you’ve never heard the term before. Brands like “Top Chef” have used it to their advantage, essentially creating synced content across multiple media platforms. Here about it within the framework of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” talk show.

How to Read the World – Delivered by Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital for The Onion. That’s enough for us, but you’ve gotta love the one-liner description of his talk, in which he promises to “spark a thought-provoking discussion about the role of technology, comedy and satire in transforming the world around us.”

Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale 10 Years Later – No doubt you first heard the name Frank Abagnale when Leo DiCaprio portrayed him in the Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. Hear the story from the man himself, plus what it’s been like working as a consultant for the FBI the last 35 years.

The View from Inside Rainn Wilson’s Brainstem – SoulPancake founder and The Office star talks about the intersection of online community, creative content, and social networking vis-a-vis his web project. Bit of a bummer, but Wilson would like to note that no, he will not be serving pancakes. Whatever, this is a breakfast taco town.

The Future of the New York Times – If you liked Page One, you probably won’t want to miss this: “New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson discusses her vision for the future of The Times in the digital age in a session moderated by Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith. Does Abramson’s leadership at The Times present a blueprint for sustainability for the newspaper industry?”

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online – Author Howard Rheingold explains what the hell he means by “literacies of attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network awareness” as they relate to our online lives, and why these concepts are critical to getting the most out of the web in the future. This dude’s been engaging with the “virtual world” since the birth of the personal computer — definitely worth a slot in your schedule.

Expanding Our Intelligence Without Limit – If there’s one event more likely than any other to blow your mind (sorry Prius-bike), it’s this talk from Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has a very committed vision of what the future of technology — and our lives within it — will look like, and he has a self-proclaimed 95% accuracy rate in his predictions. From the rise of nanobots, to the coming “singularity” — who knows what mindfuck he’ll drop on the hipsters at South-by.

Turntable.FM: The Future of Music is Social – The folks who brought music into the universe of the social, the top brass of, discuss how they did it and what the future of this model holds for musicians, listeners, and labels.

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