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September 03, 2013

You know it's getting weird at South by Southwest when employees of some "hot" new company are firing their company t-shirts at you with t-shirt guns from a moving double-decker bus while you're waiting in line for bacon cupcakes from the pop-up food cart on some random corner.

How has SXSW made it weird? Let us count the ways. The country's biggest music/interactive festival descends upon the capital of Texas every spring. Once upon a time, It was a lot smaller event, with a much smaller concentration of the tech folks who now dominate the festival. Along with the mass of techies comes an overabundance of blocked-off streets, pretentious company launch parties and weird mobile apps.

Why do a post on SXSW when it's months away, you ask? Shameless plug: Please vote for our panel featuring speakers from FOD, Tagged, StartupGrind and MobileFOMO. The voting period ends 9/6/13.

Here are some of the ways that SXSW never fails to make it weird.

1.) Getting Highlighted Too Much

Highlight is a semi-popular "social local mobile" app. It, and those like it, have the distinction of being able to notify you when people who are friends of friends come within a certain physical distance from you. Their intent here is to put you in touch with all those folks with whom you might want to get connected with but haven't been able to yet. The majority of the time though this doesn't happen. Usualy you get an alert telling you that douchebag you didn't like and don't want to see is just a block away. Thanks SXSW for making it weird. I could have gone the rest of my life without thinking about that guy.

2.) South-By-Stalking

The other end of the spectrum can be just as weird. That's where stalkers are getting drunk on all of the information about you. With the help of your Foursquare app, it's easy to find out where that person you have special feelings for is hanging out, and make sure to be there too. No, I don't have any experience with such a thing. Why do you ask?

3.) Job Interviews

One of the ways that SXSW got weird for me one year was when I applied for a job at the Austin Convention Center. It wasn't your typical interview in which you show up in a suit and tie, with a resume, having prepared your thoughts about the company. This interview was part of a contest, with the winner getting the job. My friend and I heard about the job contest on the sidewalk from two guys giving out free pizza from the company, a national chain. We met at the appointed suite in the nearby Hilton, 20 floors up. There, we both did impromptu interviews with several cameras on us and an audience of 10. I thought my interview went well, but I never heard from them.

4.) Battery Fear

Nothing at SXSW sparks more fear into the heart of your everyday techie than that of a depleted battery. The weirdest (but I have to admit, coolest) thing I saw one year was at a Foo Fighters Concert. In the middle of the crowd, there were roaming charger dudes with weird space alien costumes on. I hovered around one of them and attached my phone to one of the chargers he had connected to a giant battery in his alien backpack. The thing charged slowly, but it worked. And yes, I'm the loser who had a chance to really pay attention to a great Foo Fighters concert with only a few thousand other people (not the usual 30k+), but was more obsessed with my battery than anything else.

5.) Homeless Wifi

Hey, whatever it takes to help out a brother or sister in need. One year, if you needed wifi, you need look no further than the homeless guy down the street, who had been paid by some company to act as a wifi hotspot. Our social media addictions sort of outweigh the humanity of it all. But hey, I'm cool with that, as long as there's someplace to charge my phone.

6.) QR Codes

These things have become legendary... For how much we all hate them. One of the weirdest things about SXSW is the sheer amount of QR Codes that are floating about. Also, the location of where marketers put them is often awkward. They can be found on the walls, on fliers, and in trash cans, but very, very few us at this point ever bother to shakily suspend our camera at the appropriate distance from whichever QR we may somehow have stopped long enough to build up even a faint interest in. Please someone make these not exist anymore.

7.) Overload of Everything

The weirdest thing about SXSW is that it's a somewhat unlikely place to have your limits so thoroughly tested. Every year I leave saying the same thing, "my insides hurt." There's a lot of mental stimula and gluttony going on. Whether it be the panels, official or otherwise, the massive amounts of people roaming the corridors and blocked-off streets, or the packed restaurants, clubs and parties, it's hard not to be burnt out even after just a day or two. Try stretching it to 7 or 8 days, and it gets downright weird. Don't think it's all just mental exertion either. The amount of steps I walked made my Fitbit go haywire the last two years. I walked about ten miles several of the days. Combine that with standing still for hours with a drink in your hand, and you might need to get orthopedic soles for your feet. I think what we're establishing here is that SXSW is not for the faint of heart. If you go to it, you're going to leaved a changed person because of all the weirdness. OK maybe not weird in that "I just spent several days in the desert at Burning man in a tent with people doing acid with dust covering all my body" way, but pretty weird nonetheless. One thing's for sure, there will be more weirdness to come next year.