Last Thursday I was, as they say, “without portfolio” after the conclusion of a morning meetup and I happened to encounter Alex H. Williams. As usual he was hatching a plot, but he was more enthusiastic than usual about this particular idea. This thing was still gestating as it was being birthed, attitude fully-formed, into this cold, noisy world. For my part, I had just told a whole group of somber but optimistic enterprise builders that I was “through with irony,” and here I was about to join the quintessential post-irony juggernaut of #notatsxsw. I couldn’t refuse. I was, in fact, already not at SXSW anyway.
Pronounced “not at South by Southwest,” #notatsxsw is a phenomenon facilitated by Twitter and brandished with the business-ends of social media’s many tentacles. I immediately saw the appeal, especially since I had never been to SXSW, the high-profile, multi-day music, film and interactive festival that takes over Austin, TX every year, and which has more recently overtaken the collective mind of the Twitniscenti for whom it is a “be there, aloha” happening. By the time I stumbled into the plot, Alex (who has been to SXSW in the past and would like to have attended this year) and his comrade and fellow SXSW ‘09 non-attendee Nate DiNiro had already secured the notatsxsw.com domain name and snagged the @notatsxsw Twitter handle, and they had scheduled the first #notatsxsw-specific event, the Portland Opening Feast. All that remained was to help raise awareness and document “the first non-conference.”
We debated from the beginning: What is it? How to refer to it? The spirit of compromise prevailed because, primarily, #notatsxsw is about the unity of the masses of people who, for whatever reason, were not making the pilgrimage to Austin this year. Controversies could potentially undermine the whole thing — details such as whether the prepositional phrase “not at SXSW” is a noun like its more chic corollary “(at) SXSW,” or an adjective, comfortably interchanged with descriptive terms such as “sad,” “bitter,” “unemployed” or “couldn’t get the week off.” These minor tweeting points became secondary to the need for a sense of community and an organizing principle for those of us who may or may not be feeling somewhat left out of the cacaphonous, hashtagged songs of the SXSW migration.
Ultimately #notatsxsw is a state of mind. It may offer a return to one’s roots or simply the maintenance thereof. “I like the carpet under my feet,” wrote Tot Taylor. This writer, an acutely Cancerian homebody, putters similarly. For those of us for whom a trip across town is a source of discomfort, wearing the #notatsxsw badge is plenty fashionable, notwithstanding that the prices are lower and the lines are not nearly as long. And while there are plenty of gatherings, concerts and workshops #notatsxsw to attend, some of us even found time to clean the bathroom or clear some overgrowth in the woods.