Mindshare at SXSW: Life Arising from Digital Matter

Culture Vulture - Mindshare
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This year’s SXSWi heralded an era where digital becomes more tangible, bridging the gap between our online and offline realities. New technologies in VR, AR, AI, 3D printing and robotics showcased the early stages of a “digital abiogenesis” -- life arising from digital matter.

New startups emerged in this year’s SXSW Accelerator Competition, like Splash and Popup Play. Splash is an iPhone app that allows users to create 360 videos with just their phones. Popup Play is an app that allows children to design and build their very own playhouse which is shipped and delivered within a few days.

Overall, we heard numerous new ideas and theories on where we are and where we are going. So where are we now?As a digital nation, we’re at an inflection point where barriers to digital expression of emotion and the physical interaction with the digital world are slowly breaking down.

Evolution of Language

Emoji usage has exploded in the past couple years, providing users with an efficient means of expressing emotion online. Studying emoji patterns is quickly becoming a cultural mirror into different regions of the world. A session investigating the linguistic trends of emoji usage posed the question of whether our language is becoming more like the hieroglyphs seen in ancient Egypt. Will our language eventually evolve (or devolve) to just using emojis/gifs for digital communication?

Bringing Offline Online

The commercialization of augmented reality apps has allowed for countless possibilities for large and small brands alike to link offline media (like print) to a digital experience. One new shopping experience that we saw had users scan a page of watches in a catalog and then try them on just by putting their wrists under their phone or tablet cameras. If they liked what they saw, they could conveniently press a buy button and have the watch delivered to them.

A New Generation of Influence

For marketers, the focus has shifted from Millennials to Gen Z. This is a mobile-native generation vastly different from its predecessors and on the cusp of entering the workforce, while still having a strong influence on the purchasing power of Gen X and Millennial parents. Strategies are shifting to better engage Gen Z as this generation doesn’t care about categories or labels for what they want and wear.

Enter a New Virtual World

The biggest focal point at SXSWi this year was virtual reality. It was almost impossible to enter a brand-sponsored lounge or party without watching someone with a VR headset fully immersed in their own virtual world. Although VR is still a young technology with a lot challenges, it is quickly being adopted as a new form for storytelling and engaging with an audience.

What does this mean for the future?Many experts across several panels predicted VR as the main computer screen of the future. If this remains true, the next generation following Gen Z will be born into a world where VR is the primary means for media consumption and communication. Imagine a generation where having an online vs. offline experience might be a foreign concept. Will social networks like Facebook just become a virtual club for your friends to hang out in? Will we no longer need to travel or go anywhere?

Special thanks to this year’s Mindshare SXSW “Dream Team” for making this trip memorable and the city of Austin for being a great host.

This column was written by Elliot Nam, Associate Director, Digital Insights, Mindshare NA.

Image at top courtesy of Corbis. The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.

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