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Published on April 13th, 2011 | by Alice

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SXSW And The Mainstreaming of Geeks

So this year was our first year attending the South by Southwest festival, and let us be clear- it was amazing. The first reason for this is– obviously – that we attended a lot of interesting conferences. Amongst our favorites: “The Mainstreaming of Geek Culture”. The panelists shared in a very honest way their experience as outcast nerds when they were kids, and their feelings about seeing Justin Timberlake playing the role of a geek in The Social Network.

Why would we care? Microsoft community manager Kathleen Sanders argues that it just makes people believe that being a geek just means being into computers, when it truly is about being an outcast as a child, because you’re “uncool”. Gamer Morgan Ramine, on the other side, argued that the mainstreaming of geek culture is also very empowering for geeks – it’s a kind of victory. How did it all happen in the first place? “I kind of blame Hot Topic in a way,” Paolo Sambrano said. Anyone could wear a Hot Topic T-shirt and look geeky. Besides Hot Topic, there have been a lot of myth busters that contributed to the mainstreaming of geek culture, like Lord of the Rings or The Social Network. Last but not least… the Internet. The Web increases the visibility of small communities. The more the Web developed, the more visible geeks became online, and the easiest it got for outsiders to sort of join the community.

Although we did very much enjoy the conferences, let’s be clear about SXSW: the best part happens outside the Austin Conference Center – which is probably why people call it “the Spring break for geeks”. Here are a couple cool things we stumbled upon.

Carousolar: If you just walk by this white carousel, it looks like any other. But when you get a closer look at it, you realize there’s actually much more to it than pretty white horses. Carousolar is a project developed by General Electric, and mixes the charm of the vintage with clean technologies. GE bought an old carousel from the 1920′s, restored it, and turned it into a solar-powered, high-tech update.

Angry Birds on a car: another interesting thing we saw was a young French developer who was playing Angry Birds on a car. Basically, he had built a portable projector plugged into his Nokia phone, that allowed him to project his iPhone screen anywhere he wanted. When we saw him, he was playing Angry Birds on a car door.

Parties: all the big brands like Google, Gowalla, Mashable and others, hold parties at bars in downtown Austin. Of course, they each try to feature cool activities or shows to attract South by Southwest attendees. Among other things, we saw Steampunk workshops, Sumo robots tournaments, street art – a beautiful CNN graffiti – and foodtruck fairs.

This combination of conferences and outside shows and networking events is what makes SXSW so special. It’s not a conference. It’s a festival. And the whole festival is organized both in conference centers and in the streets of Austin. About 6 or 7 blocks are entirely devoted to the SXSW, and every single store or bar participates to making this festival so special. We can’t wait for next year’s event!

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