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This year at SXSW, everyone seemed to want to log off

Instead of talking about how to go viral, people talked about how to unplug.


Tiffany Kelly

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 18, 2023   Updated on Mar 19, 2023, 8:23 pm CDT

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This week, I spent a lot of time at South by Southwest (SXSW). Many conversations taking place this year revolved around mental health and how to have a healthy relationship with social media. Instead of talking about how to go viral, people talked about how to unplug.

It’s kind of strange since SXSW has acted as a launch event for a lot of apps—including Twitter. This year, Twitter—which severely cut its workforce starting in the fall of 2022—did not have a house or host events. Panels and sessions asked what people can do to stay sane in an online world that asks you to always be on. Creators talked about logging off, going for walks, and limiting notifications, among other measures.

During a talk called “Social Media Town Hall” this week, Steven Rosenbaum asked a team of panelists their best and worst social media interactions, as well as what social media apps they’re currently using. Twitter and its current alternatives were brought up.

“When Twitter launched, you knew the people who were reading your content” and there was a “comfort level” with that, said Josh Williams, CEO of the re-launched social app Gowalla, which allows users to share their locations with contacts. 

Audience members also shared trying out platforms like Mastodon and Discord, although they were described by those participants as “confusing” and overall not as easy to use as the mainstream social apps. Another audience member shared that they quit social media a year ago and it was life-changing

Besides talking about different platforms to explore, panelists also shared ways to limit screen time and cut back on notifications.

“It’s really screentime management in order to improve your mental and physical health with this addiction we all have to technology,” said Own Your Data Foundation Co-Founder Brittany Kaiser, who recommended turning off notifications for apps.

“I’ve had my phone on silent for almost 13 years,” she added.

Why it matters

While apps like Twitter and Instagram are still popular, people are seeking alternatives. As I’ve talked about before, BeReal is becoming popular among people who want to post without the pressure of making a post perfect—or posting multiple times a day. 

Sixteen years since Twitter took off at SXSW, people are finding ways to be less active on the platform. Or less active on social media in general. It’s unclear where we’ll go from here, but from what I’ve seen and heard at this year’s festival, those of us who are extremely online are yearning for a change

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*First Published: Mar 18, 2023, 6:00 am CDT