Austin Arts Festival Adds Technology Component One of the country's most popular arts festivals, "South by Southwest" in Austin, Texas, hosted a mind-bending series of technology conversations this week, ranging from global political activists using mobile technology in novel ways to fighting the paucity of American women in the tech sector.
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Austin Arts Festival Adds Technology Component

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Austin Arts Festival Adds Technology Component

Austin Arts Festival Adds Technology Component

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There was no shortage of computer science fans on hand this week in Austin, Texas. The city's South by Southwest Interactive festival wrapped up last night after five eventful days. There were a few surprising key note speeches - and let's not forget the panels with names like A Better Gun to Shoot Your Eye Out With and Kill Your Mouth Kinetic Computing.

Omar Gallaga covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. He spent more time thinking and living tech this week, the most of us, well, in a lifetime, which is exactly why we keep him around.

Omar, it is always good to talk to you.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Technology Culture Writer, Austin American-Statesman): Good to talk to you, Michele. Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: I want to begin with some of these keynote speakers, Mark Zuckerberg, that 23-year-old billionaire founder of Facebook appeared at the festival. Did he reveal any secrets about Facebook's future?

Mr. GALLAGA: Very little. He was really here at the conference to try to get developers excited about creating the applications for Facebook so it wasn't Facebook coming out and saying we've got a cool application that does this or we got a cool application that does that. Right now, they're really focused on growing users and getting developers to do the work of creating the cool games or the cool social networking, the apps or things that will excite users and keep them around.

NORRIS: And they allowed users to connect online and that's what helped that company stand out. Likewise there's this Web site called We've actually talked about this site here on this program a few years ago when it first appeared. But it's clearly grown and almost exploded since then and I understand its founder Frank Warren hosted a rather unusual and emotional panel.

Mr. GALLAGA: Frank Warren was one of the key note speakers, and yes, he delivered what I thought was the high point of the festival, the Web site post secrets that people send in on postcards and, you know, sometimes they're very short funny messages, sometimes they're very deep, dark secrets but you get in just a few words, some very profound sentiments, some very deep emotional things. And Frank Warren himself is an excellent speaker. He also brought up some people on stage to reveal secrets live and that was really the emotional high point of the whole event. He had one person who proposed to his girlfriend from the stage and she said yes.

NORRIS: So this was just spontaneous? He called people, he said, do anybody have a secret they like to share?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah. People got in line as they came in and went on stage. One woman who actually I had just lunch with and have no idea that she had the secret. She revealed that her sister is very, very sick. She had already gone through cancer and leukemia, and she was worried that her sister might die during the festival.

NORRIS: Hmm. Sounds like almost a (unintelligible) there at the South by Southwest festival.

Mr. GALLAGA: It was where you have people walking out in tears. You had people very, you know, emotionally choked up. I mean, it was very - I'm getting a little choked up now just talking about it. It was very - a profound and moving experience and really a good compass(ph) to a lot of the rest of the festival which is focused on venture capital and raising money and how do you make a business out of blogging. This is was a much more of human side to technology; something that really puts a human face on these things that we kind of take for granted and how these tools that are online.

NORRIS: Now for people who do rely on technology every day, there was a profound question that was considered at the conference and that was this question of whether or not to kill your mouse.

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah. There is a lot of new interfaces for how we communicate with computers, the Nintendo Wii is one example. Instead of having, you know, a game controller that's tethered to a console, you have this thing that you move around in the air and there's, you know, the "Guitar Hero" phenomenon where you're not playing with a game controller, you're playing with a guitar. And Microsoft has a project called Surface that is a touch screen table. So there's a lot of question about whether these are going to be the interfaces of the future; if we'll be communicating with computers with our hands and our movements and our eyeballs or even our brainwaves. You know, you beam something and there it is on screen. But interestingly, a lot - some of the people on the panel believe that the mouse and the keyboard are still pretty great aid - tools.

NORRIS: Omar, it's always good to talk to you. Take care.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thank you, Michele, have a good Wednesday.

NORRIS: That was Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. And the South by Southwest festival transforms today from a tech conference to a music festival, and NPR coverage starts tonight with a live concert from REM. You can visit for details.

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