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Geeks are rock stars at SXSW

The main focus: SXSW Interactive

Sarah Beckham

Introducing a session with former Vice President Al Gore and Napster co-founder Sean Parker on Monday, SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest talked about the tech fest's ever-growing stature. "Geeks are the new rock stars of the pop culture landscape," Forrest said.

For good measure, alongside its geek luminaries, the Interactive festival also threw in a hip-hop superstar, Jay-Z, performing Monday night at ACL Live, and SXSW Film added the movie stars, with a red-carpet screening of "21 Jump Street."

During his appearance Monday with Parker, Gore began the conversation with strong words that set the stage for the hourlong discussion: "Our democracy has been hacked. It no longer works to best serve the people of this country."

He called upon the hackers, designers and inventors at the conference to create a digital town square where people can talk about the government and hold politicians responsible. Gore called it "Occupy Democracy," at which point the nearly filled exhibit hall (which seats more than 2,000) at the Austin Convention Center erupted in applause.

The Jay-Z concert was the highest-profile musical event ever at Interactive and was livestreamed on YouTube and to an outdoor screen at Sixth and Red River streets. American Express staged the concert to publicize the launch of a new service called Sync. With it, American Express card-holders can tie their cards to a Twitter account and use a hashtag in tweets to receive discounts to businesses such as McDonald's, Whole Foods Market and Best Buy.

The launch is just one of several high-profile services related to personal finance or credit. Google, PayPal and a collection of companies employing a technology called Isis were all represented at SXSW Interactive, trying to raise interest in the idea of digital wallets and virtual money.

"21 Jump Street" is the centerpiece of the SXSW Film Festival and brought stars Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Rob Riggle and Nick Offerman to town for Monday's red carpet. The 80s TV show, this time played for laughs, opens Friday.

Contact Sarah Beckham at 445-3826. Additional material from staff writers Omar L. Gallaga, Peter Mongillo and Charles Ealy, and Isadora Vail, special to the American-Statesman.