The best part of SXSW for me was the taxi rides home. I have been trying to come up with a summary of SXSW -- the content, the brands, the takeaways -- but really, it was a lot of noise I'm still sorting through. People from all over the world descend on Austin to teach and learn, and I go to see what rings true and how I can respond to the ideas and technologies. I mainly seek out the global impact content. The best parts, like most conferences, were the human moments. My typical SXSW mood swings mirror those of a school year -- first day, there early with paper and a pen, eager to learn. On the last day, I don't think I believe in school anymore and I need to get out in the REAL world.
One night, I flagged a taxi downtown on the way home from a show. Being nosy, I asked the driver where he was from, and he told me Pakistan. Somehow, in four miles, we ended up talking about how the Taliban killed his younger brother and he had to uproot and bring his family to Austin. This guy should have a panel. He has started businesses, has opinions on his country's politics and is working to support his family. The Amnesty International panel I went to just talked at me and asked for dollars and Tweets so they could continue their work. I do believe that Amnesty is a great org doing essential work, but I so tire of third and fourth and hundredth person accounts of change that's needed in the world.
A few nights later, after a Ludacris concert (lots of conflicted self loathing and simultaneous dancing going on), I caught another taxi home. Again, I asked the driver where he was from originally. Somalia. I told him I had a Somali friend in Austin named Ayan. Immediately, he stopped the fare and said, "Ayan is my sister. You are my family. I will not take your money." Now, they are not really related, but he meant that he knew my friend and this made us irreversibly connected. He kept repeating that we are family now, that he should have me over for dinner and that if he could, he would invite me to Somalia. I was truly touched. This was a rare glimpse of being loved and accepted in a week of anonymity and FOMO.
SXSW makes me wonder if it's just me that's irrelevant or everyone. I am so easily seduced by the honor and glory I recognize. How do I get noticed? But really, what is the point of all this technology and marketing dollars and panels -- is it essential? Is it fruitful? Do you have to talk about the work that you're doing and make some noise, as the Neiman's panel I went to was called. Now, clearly there is a point and I wasn't forced to buy a badge. I heard really amazing women (yes, I mainly went to hear women) talk about work they are doing. The connectedness of the Internet matters and aggregated Tweets can aid a revolution, but can't you just do your work quietly? Can you serve and love people without telling anyone about it? It was so wonderful to be reminded that here in Austin, in my city, there are men and women full of knowledge and their own stories of ways they have changed the world for themselves, their families and their communities. People who have lived through war, who have uprooted successful careers and lives to bravely come and live in a new place. These connections to these taxi drivers having their own global impact was, I guess, worth the price of admission to me. These are the teachers, the inspirations and the authentic lives I should try to emulate. They inspire me to be relevant, to do good work and to be okay with not talking about it. I will not forget their resiliency or kindness. I will also never forget meeting Cookie Monster. If all of SXSW convened and the stars aligned just so I could meet the OG of Sesame Street, that's okay by me.