I’m on a speaking tour of America right now, and after my first talk at SXSW, I meet a girl named April (not her real name) who tells me “I have about 60 husbands and wives who I married recently. I don’t let most of them fuck me.”
I have always found, while travelling to conferences, you find far more interesting conversations and experiences
from local people. Badge holders tend to ghetto themselves into the official events, lightly drinking alcohol all day
At official events and going to bed by midnight. Fuck that. I want to drink the colours of the night time and meet as many people as possible, experiencing the town the way it naturally is. F you, corporate sponsored parties!
Conferences can change your life if you a) Have an incredible network/meetings set up, or b) You sociopathically stalk influential people and hustle your way into the secret afterparties to get facetime with the powerful millionaires and influencers, some of which can change your life with a single tweet or introduction. I’m not averse to either, but I’m also a single young male living a life I never thought would happen (I was broke and on welfare/benefits three years ago, lots has happened quickly) so I don’t fancy spending some of my only time not working discussing Facebook algorithms and the future of Virtual Reality with men in buttoned-up shirts.
So back to the conversation. I feel something approaching lust, excitement, danger when I talk to this girl. We arrange to meet up later. That night I’m feeling well out of my depth when a photographer comes up to us, takes a picture of her, and starts making out with her. She feels my awkwardness and re-assures me “don’t worry about him, he’s just one of my husbands. I’ll introduce you.”
Though I’ve never had a polyamorous relationship or even considered it as an option, having this night out with April puts me in a conflicted position. I find gender politics are horribly slanted against women who may be promiscuous (sluts) vs. guys who sleep around (studs). So I’m watching a different one of her husband’s join the party every 30 minutes or so, briefly make out with April, then join the rest of her poly tribe. How does this make me feel? On one hand it’s a liberating experience to see someone so free and confident with who they are, on the other I’m completely insecure about someone I fancy continually kissing other people. I head to the bar, totally confused and lost, trying to figure it out. When I look back, there are four people from their tribe kissing at once (tongues overlapping, etc). She is topless now, also. At moments like this I feel like it’s a test of my Britishness. Stereotyped for being sexually unadventurous and prudish with victorian values, can I shake off my suburban upbringing and dissolve into any situation? It would make for far better reading if I did in that moment, but in the end I took a path of least resistance and left without her. (I later found out the poly gang had a “private party” in a hotel room. Oh lord.)
Back in the relatively predictable world of SXSW badge holders, I’m at an “Internet marketing party”. I ask a content marketing agency how they get PR for their clients. “We throw parties to get journalists to like us” he tells me. “We hire a hotel suite, get some quality alcohol and food, and pay models to keep everyone company for a few hours.” One part of me is disgusted with the cynical nature of what he’s saying, but the other part says “You would enjoy it if you were there, would you not?”. I’d like to think I’d be principled enough to say no if I was ever invited,, but who can say? Only in a male-dominated industry would such a thing be acceptable, and we are all subject to our base desires.
There were 118,000 matches on Tinder in Austin in the first 2 days. So even in a place with virtually unlimited free bars and everyone essentially on holiday and staying in hotels in a party town (i.e. all the ingredients to meet lots of people of the opposite sex), tech people still need an app to communicate and find love, rather than talking to the people standing next to them. I could write about the desperation of entrepreneurs working on their company (or high up at a corporate) 15 hours a day and the sexual frustration that comes with having no free time/how an essential part of human life is missing for these people, but am I not also part of that?
I strike it lucky on my final night at SXSW Interactive. I meet a girl who invites me to a secret hotel party at the Four Seasons. This was the party literally everyone would want to go to if they knew it existed. Huge suite, alcohol everywhere, millionaires getting wasted, girls laughing and lying in the bathtub, and hazy discussions with some of the most influential people in tech. A guitar emerges and the editor of a massive tech publication begins an impromptu singalong of “Wonderwall.” If I was a founder running a startup, I would’ve been in dreamland.
I stay up all night and have to fly to my next stop (San Francisco) one hour later. Just before I got on the plane, April texts me, apologising for not seeing me again at SXSW, and sends one final text “ily.” I thought about what to reply, but all I had to offer was my own confusion. Another SXSW was over. Had we improved our lives? Did we get what we lacked back in our hometowns? It had been quite a ride. I fell asleep.