Which Panels Will Make It to South by Southwest?

Digital divides and the crowdsourcing of things make my list for next year's conference.

The race is on to pick panels for March 2014's South by Southwest, the onetime music festival that's grown into a major conference on politics, film, technology and nearly everything else under the blazing hot Austin, Texas sun.

Here are a few that caught my eye because they take familiar topics (at least familiar in the insular world of tech reporting) and treat them in an interesting or less familiar way.

  • Digital Divide or Sinkhole? Tech Famines in the US: This panel takes the familiar notion that lower levels of access to Internet technology can exacerbate structural inequalities that already exist based on race, age, income and education level. But it also asks another question: What if access alone doesn’t make the difference? From the panel description: “This interactive session will explore the illusion of technology access in poor communities, how it is eroding the intellectual infrastructure of the nation, the consequences for our standing in the global community if we do nothing about it and what policy makers and social entrepreneurs can do to correct course.”
  • The Shareable City: Tech Transforming Urban Life: When we talk about crowdsourcing, we’re usually talking about ideas or knowledge. Social platforms can also enable the crowdsourcing of objects, though, leading to a much more efficient use of everything from power tools to pancake griddles. If you’re the kind of person who needs an electric drill or a fondue set about once a year, in other words, it would make a lot more sense to pay the guy down the hall $5 to borrow his for the day than to shell out over $100 for your own.
  • I Am the Law: How Startups Can Open Access to Law: As Tony Kusher’s Roy Cohn once said, lawyers are “the high priests of America.” Their work is like magic that seems beyond the grasp or even comprehension of most laypeople. Interactive digital technology is helping to lift that veil, though, and to give regular folks a surer footing when they interact with lawyers and the law.
  • The Future of Government-Citizen Interaction: This could be the subtitle for most any article on government information technology. What’s interesting about the program, though, is that it promises to go beyond the standard stories about mobile access to government data and crowdsourcing government programs to look at how emerging technologies such as Google Glass might reshape government-citizen interactions.
  • The Unruly Mob Would Like to Comment: The role of social media and digital activism on government debates certainly isn’t a new topic. It hit the mainstream during the Arab Spring protests and has been hotly debated ever since. This panel promises something special, though: an expansive post mortem on the online battles that took place alongside the Texas abortion bill debate, made famous by state Sen. Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster. It will be in the city where that debate happened and just nine months later. The panel might give a good sense of how much power online activists have to actually influence legislative debates today and whether that influence is trending up or down as real-time, online response becomes a fact of legislative life.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Share panels that caught your eye in the comments below or tweet at me.