Freestyle: SXSW meets Silicon Valley

Mar. 16, 2015 | 1 Comment
COURTESY GEORGE SALISBURYSXSW to-do list: First, ponder the future of our social, high-tech economy, then get in line to see the Flaming Lips.

COURTESY GEORGE SALISBURY

SXSW to-do list: First, ponder the future of our social, high-tech economy, then get in line to see the Flaming Lips.

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

So, where are we going with all this enthusiasm for new, tech start-ups and communities fueled by social media?

In my honest opinion, that’s up to all of us — and in some ways it’s still an old-fashioned political question. I’m an entertainment writer, so I won’t attempt to answer that, but I thought it would be interesting to sit in on a related South by Southwest conversation with a big-picture guy, author Malcolm Gladwell (“David and Goliath”), who interviewed venture capitalist Bill Gurley on Sunday.

freestyle sxsw header 2015

ALOHA, SXSW!

TGIF Editor Elizabeth Kieszkowski will be blogging from Austin, Tex. during the 2015 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival. Read more SXSW posts at honolulupulse.com/category/blogs/freestyle-blogs.

Gurley saw potential early on in influential startups such as OpenTable (restaurant reservations), Uber (on-demand car service) and Zillow (real estate listings and information).

(He’s also a graduate of the University of Texas, and showed up to his SXSW session wearing a Longhorns T-shirt, of course.)

The discussion between Gurley and Gladwell touched on some essential questions and anxieties we’re facing in this era: Will the efficiencies of a high-tech economy put more Americans out of jobs, as Craigslist, Google et al have done with newspapers and Amazon has done with bookstores? Are we headed for another bubble? And what’s next?

Uber is under scrutiny in Hawaii as we speak, and the company is encouraging Hawaii residents to call for its acceptance. Nationwide, concerns have been raised about this company’s effects and potential effects on taxi drivers, car manufacturers and public transportation?

Gurley, as might be expected, didn’t seem too concerned about widespread unemployment caused by new services and technologies. Taking the wide view, he said “disruptions” caused by the transformation of an economy (such as invention of the gas engine, or telecommunications) have brought more productivity and a higher standard of living, over time.

COURTESY SXSWWhat is the future of our economy? Author Malcolm Gladwell, left, and venture capitalist Bill Gurley have a few ideas.

COURTESY SXSW

What is the future of our economy? Author Malcolm Gladwell, left, and venture capitalist Bill Gurley have a few ideas.

He did sound the alarm, however, over the huge sums of money that are flowing into Silicon Valley.

“In Silicon Valley, you have more people employed by money-losing companies than ever before,” Gurley said.

The investor predicted that some companies that have drawn investments of more than $1 billion (yes, you read that number right) will fail this year — and he’s been quoted widely for this warning for several months.

That doesn’t mean he’s expecting every new, widely hyped startup to fall apart: He also told Gladwell he wishes he would have invested in online room- and house-rental company Airbnb.

What’s next? Well, Gurley said video on demand and health care are ripe for disruption, because both are inefficient.

If you’re reading this for entertainment news, the prospect of a video-delivery company that will help get you what you like with less bother may be a tantalizing prospect.

As for me, what’s next is that I need to get out there and find more music in real life.

It was just announced that Future Islands and the Flaming Lips will play a free show on Sunday for SXSW badge-holders at the Moody Theatre, a concert hall on Austin’s Willie Nelson Blvd.

I won’t be able to line up hours in advance, so maybe I’ll get in, or maybe I’ll have to wander the streets listening for something that hits the spot. Either way, I’m confident this city will provide.
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Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

  • ElizabethKieszkowski

    In case you’re wondering, the line wasn’t *that* long for the #SXSW Flaming Lips / Future Islands show — and both bands were great!