The South by Southwest Interactive Festival, held each March in Austin, Texas, has become the Internet’s Sundance, an annual showcase for whatever the Silicons—Valley and Alley—can cook up, and the place where the press goes to chew on it. Ever since Twitter blew up there in 2007, the old-media publicity machine has been churning hard, with carefully orchestrated product launches and heavy competition for the attention of the biggest-name journalists. Hollywood shows up to help: last year Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire came to support the photo-sharing app Mobli, in which they had both invested—only the latest sign that the festival had lost its funky roots, inevitably changed by money and age.
Which made it all the more startling when the biggest thing to break out last year involved neither publicists nor marketing plans, and presented nothing, in fact, to buy or sell. All it offered was a new way of understanding our screen-obsessed lives, packaged into a putative conceptual movement that had a provocative clarity that propelled it through the valleys of the Internet—far beyond South by Southwest’s tech scene—to art, fashion, media, and marketing. It had a symbol: the drone. An André Breton–style ringleader: a young English artist named James Bridle. And a name: the New Aesthetic.