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Rhetoric and Writing Major Monica Castellanos Reflects on SXSW Interactive Experience

Posted: April 1, 2013
Two Cirque du Soleil performers pose with audience members. Credit: Monica Castellanos.

Two Cirque du Soleil performers pose with audience members. Credit: Monica Castellanos.

Monica Castellanos, a senior in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, attended South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive from March 8-12 in Austin, TX. She attended thanks to the Appleman Endowment, which is used to support undergraduate research and professional opportunities.

By Monica Castellanos

At SXSW Interactive, I learned about everything from how foreign media uses Twitter from within North Korea, to how social media distracts us from thinking, to how listening to fast-pitched music makes food taste sourer. I saw people like Fred Armisen, Nate Silver, Rachel Maddow, and the Politifact founders talk about what they’ve dedicated their lives to. A few hours after the ambitious Astro Teller of Google[x] – the group behind Google Glass and self-driving cars – told me that we are limited only by our own bravery and creativity, Bruce Sterling told me in the closing keynote that the next cool tech thing isn’t always an advancement and that things don’t always get better. Despite this seemingly random assortment of ideas and people, I walked away inspired.

There are very few things I can consistently count on to make me feel inspired, one of whom is the revolutionary artist Klaus Nomi. Yet after a while, that mood wears off.  But SXSWi has made me realize that I can be the Klaus Nomi of contract law, or investigative journalism, or whatever path I end up taking in life: I just have to be continuously dedicated, creative, and grounded. Innovation should be an integral part of my way of life, not a light switch I only turn on when in a rut. That mindset is what makes far-fetched ideas like self-driving cars actually become a plausible reality. It’s what pushes us to take what we have and try to make it into something new and better.

On the final night of SXSWi, I was able to see an amazing performance by Cirque du Soleil. The closing trick was four men stacking themselves by jumping onto each other’s shoulders, but at the last second the last man fell. When they tried it again and succeeded, the audience erupted into cheers as the performers pulled off the show’s most incredible feat of acrobatics. It turned out to be a nice nod to the biggest lesson I took away from SXSWi: you need both dedication and innovation to achieve something remarkable.


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