On SXSW Hangovers, Both Literal and Figurative

There are various types or SXSW hangovers: literal hangovers, recovering from 5-10 days of drinking; health hangovers, the result of being in a teeming vector for infection; and an intangible type of hangover which is far more difficult to parse.

Even for those of us who view SXSW with a gimlet eye — and particularly those of us who live here, and have to put up with the drunkenness spilling onto our front lawns when we’re long sick of its novelty — there’s an energy to the conference which is sickly addictive. And a sense of loss when it’s gone.

Amid the ridiculous marketing and idiots behaving like it’s like it’s their last weekend out, there are the thoughtful people who we usually connect with only via email or Hangouts or never. For a few days, there is an incredible concentration of smart, motivated, and admittedly drunk people, crammed into a few city blocks. There’s nothing quite like it.

Yes, it’s exhausting, and in some cases, horribly destructive. But despite the heavily-branded, free booze-fueled chaos, there’s something worthwhile. A sense of possibility and connection that is rare in the city of Austin (despite its advocates who want to sell you expensive condos in gentrified neighborhoods,) and opportunities to forge personal connections that cannot be replicated by any app, no matter how disruptive said hypothetical app is purported to be.

So we leave, our wallets full of business cards and address books full of contacts, but what is irreplaceable is the energy, the proximity, and the people. The sense that others are doing far more than you could imagine. For a few magical/horrible days, we exist in a bubble, dreaming of a better world where we’re all connected physically and digitally.

Certainly, it’s a microcosm of the bubble that the entire tech industry exists within — primarily white, male, and privileged — but there’s something worth saving despite its problematic aspects.

The worst SXSW hangover is the one of possibilities lost, and it’s the one that lingers long after the city returns to its increasingly tenuous state of equilibrium.