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Six fascinating findings from SXSW 2022

At Fox Agency, the intersection between tech and creative fuels everything we do.

To keep delivering sparkling results in the work we do for our clients, we play our part in as many of the global events that explore this convergence as possible.

March 11-20 witnessed one of the biggest tech and creative events of the year – SXSW (or South by SouthWest), in Austin, Texas. We assembled a crack team of our in-house experts to soak it all up and report back on the latest breakthroughs happening right now, or coming to a world near you in the very near future.

SXSW is a celebration of so many fields of endeavour, including art, film, music, and of course, cutting-edge technology. It’s a meeting of minds (this year, 230,000 of them) that attracts technologists, marketeers, brands, entrepreneurs, and everyone for whom creative thinking is critical.

Here’s a carefully curated selection of the highlights of our experience at SXSW that we believe will be pivotal in the shaping of marketing and your world in the years to come.


The unstoppable growth of the metaverse

The first key topic that we encountered at SXSW was the metaverse.

Against the backdrop of Meta’s extensive efforts to be a key player, it was particularly interesting to hear so many high-level speakers emphasise the importance of keeping the metaverse de-centralised. Creativity and diversity will only thrive if the metaverse is easily accessible (and develop-able) by as many players as possible, who are given the freedom to establish their own ‘islands’ and content as much as possible.

One of the most detailed and intriguing explorations of the state of the metaverse came in a session entitled ‘What’s in a Metaverse?’ given by Raffaella Camera (Epic Games), Charlie Fink (Chapman University), Philip Rosedale (Second Life) and Timmu Toke (Ready Player Me). It started with an interesting observation about its development stage: in some ways we’re in the early emergence phase, but in some ways we’ve been here before as we’ve seen with the growth of the internet. In this initial phase, there will be a period during which the metaverse is composed of separate ‘islands’, but over time, these will bridge together, to form a single metaverse.

It’s very likely that individual users will have an avatar per use-case, so one for social, one for professional, and so on. This pattern will mimic how we use social media profiles today, with a slightly (or radically) different version of ourselves that exists in LinkedIn as compared to Instagram.

And how will the metaverse be monetized? This is most likely to come from the virtual economy, and digital goods. Ownership will be an important part of the metaverse, but to do this will necessitate far more concrete foundations including a legal and governance framework.


Is AI really starting to take over?

Amy Webb of the Future Today Institute highlighted AI as one of the key themes for this year. One of her central observations about AI today was that it is continually altering our perception of reality. We’re getting closer by the day to a point where AI systems can make their own decisions, without human intervention. AI can now recognise us by our heart print, meaning that systems don’t need our faces to recognise us any more. It also increasingly changes how we search for information, by having an ever more accurate idea of what it is we’re likely to be looking for.

AI is not without its naysayers, but others are unequivocally positive about the possibilities. One such session, ‘Human + Artificial Intelligence: A Winning Blend’, was given by Miles ArnoneHeather HassonGreg Williams and Jade Scipioni. The panel pointed out that to create good AI, you need data scientists, data analytics and machine learning all working in concert to enable you to use your products. AI and machine learning can be used to help the design process by providing information to make products more efficient to manufacture. In the marketing sphere, AI and machine learning working together can enrich the customer experience.


The thrill of the ‘non-obvious’

Big-name breakthroughs and trends in tech were covered in abundance at SXSW, but the great thing about the festival is that it provoked thought in so many areas of tech, creative and society that are less obvious, but may still have profound impacts.

And so it was with a fascinating discussion session featuring the author and speaker Rohit Bhargava, who looked at 10 Non-Obvious Trends Shaping 2022 and Beyond.

Rohit’s rundown of trends began with an observation that he calls ‘amplified identity’ – the tendency for us to create multiple identities for ourselves in different places. We do this routinely on social media, but it may be that we have to prepare for our world in which our identities are fundamentally divided. Another fascinating trend that Rohit explored is ungendering, or the importance of removing gender from activities that don’t need it. This is already under way in places to remove longstanding gender biases, and is an essential step on the road towards true equality.

Rohit went on after these two megatrends to discuss the dangers and opportunities of instant knowledge, looking backwards into the past for ways to inspire trust, the attention economy (with seemingly everyone and everything clamouring for our attention) and data over-abundance. By taking a more unconventional path in his research, Rohit produced countless nuggets that made our team sit up and think.


The vastness (and vast opportunities) of space

Few topics garnered more excitement at SXSW than commercial space exploration. The direction of travel here is about moving space travel away from being the preserve of governments, and towards private companies that are more nimble and more cost-effective.

With the International Space Station (ISS) being decommissioned in 2023, we took in a session about the huge opportunities presented by the first commercial space station going live in 2024.

Axiom Space is one of the firms planning a launch of a commercial space station, and will help Lambdavision to achieve its goals of restoring sight for more people with impaired vision, thanks to the research benefits of micro-gravity. More widely, the collaboration throws up an extraordinary range of possibilities for how commercial space stations will be used in future.


The internet upgraded – Web 3.0

What is Web 3.0? In simple terms, it’s the next emerging incarnation of the internet. One point of view that we garnered from SXSW is that increasingly, Web 3.0 will be sense-based. VR headsets and sensory gloves are already transforming our experience of the virtual.


But Web 3.0 is grappling with some bigger topics too, such as how to decentralize the internet and put it more in the hands of us, the users. There was much talk of how the commercialization of the internet has evolved into the business of data ownership, and why Web 3.0 needs to disrupt and overturn that dynamic.


Diving in to XR

SXSW was bursting with XR installations taking virtual reality to the next level of realism and immersiveness. Some of the animations and interactive experiences were truly jaw-dropping. One VR experience, called Paper Birds, was a 30-minute interactive story of a young musician searching for true inspiration. We could move around this whole experience at will, listen to individual characters, interact with music and open up portals.


This sort of experience represents a wholly different, non-linear way of telling a story, and one that we believe brands will increasingly start to explore and take inspiration from in reaching their customers.


A melting pot of ideas

This gives you just a flavour of some of the extraordinary sights, sounds and sensations of an incredibly multi-faceted event. Over six days at SXSW, the Fox team were at turns amazed and awed by what we took in. It’s given us enormous inspiration to break new ground with our clients in helping them reach customers in innovative and captivating ways.