It's not like I didn't know what I was getting into. This was my second year at South by Southwest, the Austin, Texas, music festival that has morphed into a trilateral Comic-Con of the tattered remnants of the music industry, the on-the-ropes independent film sector and a New Third Thing, the tantalizingly monetizable-for-a-few culturo-fiscal tsunami that left the first two that way, which SXSW hath dubbed Interactive.
Which is, of course, the Internet. Or more exactly, the hapless wretches who want to make money from it because what else are they going to do--build real stuff and sell it?
In case you're wondering what goes on SXSW and why you should care, here's what:
It's a bunch of incredibly douchey 25-to-37-year-old wannabentrepreneurs trying to market Webby things.
During SXSW 2012, I wandered to the lobby of my hotel to get coffee. Some douches were ambling around, heads cocked in the head-tilt-toward-iPhone position. Other douches were on the floor, engaged in a random hackathon that accomplished little more than stressing the already Technorati-overburdened wi-fi network. But that still left other douches to notice I wasn't wearing shoes.
"Dude," a tall male douche, about 32 years old, smiled at me. And pointed at my feet.
"What?" I asked, grouchily. "No shoes," he replied. "What are you promoting?"
Another douche, apparently the first douche's comrade, joined us. "Hey, that's great!" the second douche chimed in. "Are you repping a foot app? A shoe app? What is it? I gotta know!"
They were visibly disappointed by my explanation, which was boring and simple: I didn't feel like putting on shoes. They thought I was lying.
It was depressing and maddening. It was also enlightening, because SXSW is a metaphor for the American economy.
Like most U.S. businesses, SXSW attendees wanted to sell stuff. The problem was, no one wanted to buy, or hire, or invest.
If the balance at SXSW and in the United States were less extreme, you'd merely have downward pressure on wages and prices.
As things stand, the demand side is virtually nonexistent. And that's catastrophic. The U.S. economy added 177,000 jobs in January, 237,000 in February, and 158,000 in March. Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimates that overall growth is running at about 175,000 a month. Since the country needs to add 180,000 jobs per month to keep up with population growth, the United States in "recovery" is losing 5,000 jobs a month.
Sassy ex-Reagan administration budget chief David Stockman says America is doomed because of failed government intervention. "The United States is broke--fiscally, morally, intellectually--and the Fed has incited a global currency war (Japan just signed up, the Brazilians and Chinese are angry, and the German-dominated euro zone is crumbling) that will soon overwhelm it. When the latest [Wall Street] bubble pops, there will be nothing to stop the collapse."
Stockman is probably wrong about why but right about what. When you've got a marketplace full of would-be sellers but no buyers, you've got no market at all. All that's left is a bunch of douchebags looking at your feet.