South by Southwest Interactive 06

March 10-14, Austin Convention Center

In the past, as both an editor responsible, in part, for the Chronicle's coverage and a fan taking full advantage of its hundreds of offerings, I've compared SXSW Film to choking on an ice cube: It presents a panicky challenge at first – things flash in front of you, and it's hard to catch them all – but it gradually melts into an adrenaline-fueled rhythm of life-affirming wonder and experience. So, what of SXSW Interactive, which is growing annually at a rate equal to or exceeding that of its higher-profile complements, Film and Music? (Full disclosure: The publisher and editor of this paper co-founded the festival.)

I think it's like being on a game show or in a discount shoe store wherein one has the opportunity to enter a money chamber and grope for dollars, except here the dollars are ideas (not to say you can't find a little cash, too). Again, there's a sense of catching all you can, because things are fleeting. Not to mention disorienting: Amid daily innovation and adaptability, it's already outdated to fret at opening an old-media mind to new media's possibilities, its technologies and terminology, but it's also reality. For a lot of us, the scope of a conference like SXSW Interactive is an overwhelming one. Still, we want to participate. We want to understand while we have the chance, to get a grasp of what we can before we're held back. This goes for print people and people in general, those confused by blogs and Craigslist and those confused by CSS or Web 2.0 or RSS or XML and those by the future of libraries or the future of radio and those by the future.

Who will help us understand? Who will guide and inspire us? In conceiving our coverage of SXSW Interactive 06, now, arguably, the destination for whom Barb Dybwad (p.64) calls today's ideators, we played with notions of divergence and convergence, of tangled cables distinguishing themselves while meeting at a hub. We thought about surrendering the issue to bloggers to blur our dividing lines. But those are gimmicks, stretched abstractions, and they miss the point. That point is this: We're all in it together. The challenge for technologists, bloggers, mobilizers, artists, designers, and educators – new leaders of a new way of life – is to maintain the democracy, independence, and optimism of their power in an elitist era ushered in by, ironically, their polar opposite and his administration.

The personalities we feature in this section are more than up for that challenge. They know their shit, and they're ready to share. They have vision, intuition, and wisdom. Like us, they're really looking forward to SXSW Interactive, which starts next week. Most of them are women. It's up to you whether that means something or simply makes for a great cover.

Admission and much more: www.sxsw.com/interactive

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