SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A, we speak with Matt Egan, senior strategy director, about his key takeaways from the 2017 SXSW

What emerging technologies captured your interest? 

For me, it’s less about discovering new technologies and more about understanding the larger trends and platforms that are making waves in the marketplace. I came away with a deeper understanding of the big trends: AI, IOT, Cloud, VR, even 3D printing. I enjoyed Experience IBM, a massive installation that showcased the potential of IBM Watson and cognitive computing. It was enlightening to interact with platforms such as Watson Discovery (IBM’s content analytics engine) and Watson Conversation (IBM’s virtual bot)—and get a sense of the individual tools that will bring the promise of artificial intelligence to life. 

What cultural trends were evident this year?

The one word that stands out is “atomization.” I heard it everywhere—atomization of culture, atomization of brands, atomization of experience. Part of this clearly stems from the surprising presidential election—which laid bare our country’s divergent views on a whole host of issues. It’s clear that technologists, media and brand owners alike are rethinking their role in shaping shared values and a shared cultural experience. And some worry that technology—AI and robotics in particular—may disintegrate our culture further and in ways we can’t yet foresee.

Which panels did you enjoy most?

I really enjoyed This young moment: Designing for Hyperrealtime, by frog design director Christine Todorovich. Christine believes that our perception of time is slowing as we fill it with so much more content and activity. And she believes interaction designers can pay more attention to time—leveraging it as a fundamental element to building compelling experiences.

But my favorite panel was This is your brain on story: Neuroscience + The Moth, presented by Catherine Burns, artistic director of The Moth, and Alexander Huth, a neuroscientist from UC Berkeley. Huth has spent years analyzing MRI brain imaging to understand how humans process storytelling. Having his subjects listen to the “natural language” stories of The Moth helped Huth to uncover fascinating insight into how we process meaning through language, and into the unique ability of stories to “light up” so many different parts of our brain. It was a good reminder of the power of a good story, and how compelling narratives can truly change thinking, perception and human behavior.

Matt Egan is a senior strategy director at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter:@EganMatt