Staying one step ahead of trending tech: Four key takeaways from South by Southwest 2023

Design Team

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In recent months we’ve watched ChatGPT bring artificial intelligence into public consciousness, seen the biggest tech companies making widespread layoffs and witnessed the rise of health tech. It’s easy to feel that we’re living in an age where we’ve already achieved ultimate digital literacy. But the truth is, technology is evolving beyond our imaginations, and we have to strike the balance between keeping up with the opportunities presented by tech, and keeping mindful of the implications and risks too.  

A few of our team members were lucky enough to attend TMW x BIMA’s breakfast event (you read that right – that’s our friends over at TMW Unlimited!) to recap their experience at South by Southwest back in March. South by Southwest is a music, film and technology festival held in Austin, Texas, each spring, bringing over 300,000 people to the state’s capital to celebrate all things tech, media, and culture. The TMW team, beyond hosting and attending events, went to scope out the latest tech trends, and brought back their findings to share. We came away from their BIMA Breakfast event with a myriad of different learnings on the importance of hanging onto our humanity in a tech-driven world.

The overall message was that it can be tricky to separate tech from ourselves, and that’s something to be mindful of both as a marketer and as a consumer. So here are four key ways to use rather than be used by tech:

Upskill yourself

Don’t let artificial intelligence pass you by. It’s a bit marmite at the moment – it’s hard not to be impressed by the capabilities of ChatGPT, for example, and how much easier it makes certain tasks, but tech leaders are concerned about the risks AI could pose to society. And with good reason: it accelerates the digital literacy divide, making the gap between those who have and those who don’t cavernous, and encourages the loss of critical thinking skills. It has been reported that AI could even be doing some of our jobs for us in the near future. So it’s important to learn how to use it to amplify our own capabilities instead of watching it overtake our abilities. Try using tools to do the drudge work, leaving more time for us to imagine, create and direct. Don’t get left behind. Don’t let AI pass you by.

Think about your tech health

How many times a day do you hit ‘accept cookies’ without really thinking about it? Do you wear a smart watch? Do you use apps like MyFitnessPal, Flo and Strava? Private data about us is everywhere – and do we really know where it’s going? It might seem inconsequential, but being mindful of the wider impact of this data is vital. Flo, for example, stores data on menstrual cycles to help people manage them better – but surely that means it holds onto data around pregnancies too. In a time when abortion rights are seemingly vanishing in some places, mismanagement of data like this could be catastrophic for users. So we need to be as aware of our tech health as we are our physical health. So much of tech conveniences us, but it’s important to consider the risks to our data, and society, too.

Take care of your ‘self’

Tech can be a health hazard or a health hero. The bad news is it can desensitise our reactions and emotions and can reduce our sense of self. If you’ve ever spent a day mindlessly scrolling TikTok and struggled to regulate your mind afterwards, you’ll know what I mean. Tech detaches us from the world around us, and numbs the risk and friction we experience, which are important aspects of feeling things, whether it be love, hate, boredom, excitement, joy or sorrow. But on the other hand, advances in tech are making genuine inroads to improving our health too; wearable tech can detect atrial fibrillation and enable people to get treatment quickly, for example. Wellness apps like Headspace and Thrive are bringing tactics for supporting our own mental health to us whenever we need them. Tactics for enhancing our health and wellbeing are all-the-more accessible and we’re living longer, so we need to be embracing the opportunities tech gives us – but ensure we use it wisely in connecting with ourselves, rather than numbing our sense of self.

Make informed choices

We already know that sustainability is a growing factor in the decisions customers make. But how much of that is rooted in real knowledge? What does sustainability really mean in your industry? Businesses are often accused of greenwashing, creating cynicism for some consumers and downright confusing others. So transparency is key – and we need to know not only how our tech habits impact the environment, but also how innovations in tech can inform our climate knowledge. Consider the impact of churning through iPhone after iPhone every two years: aside from emissions from manufacturing and delivery, how many tangled sets of earphones lie in landfill? And what about the emissions that result from cheap Amazon phone cases being imported from the other side of the world? But it’s not all bad news. AI, for example, can be used to track carbon emissions across the planet, which can be used to inform renewable energy infrastructure. Tech can also be used to make global supply chains more transparent. And as sustainability continues to grow as an area of concern, all of this helps us to reflect and react to take meaningful action – both as marketers and as consumers.

Above all, the key takeaway that has been stuck in my mind ever since the TMW x BIMA event is that we need to be one step ahead, because tech desensitises us to our capabilities. Consider how many skills and activities can be performed by tech now – we’re hurtling towards a future where technology can outsmart the human mind. It’s hard to comprehend how terrifying that is! And the more we blindly rely on technology, the more we forget how incredible humans can be.

Of course, being one step ahead is easier said than done. We’re all busy people, and who has the time to sit through endless AI courses? But if you pause and consider where your data is going before you automatically hit ‘accept cookies’, or if you stop to reflect on whether an app has become too addictive to you, you’re already on the road to mindfully using tech.

Ultimately, the greatest innovations in technology should enrich our humanity and enhance our skills – rather than eliminating them altogether.

Check out SXSW 2023 event coverage to find out more about trending tech: