The Urban Scientist

Rally for the Future at the New York Tech Meetup

A Bizarre and Slightly Awkward End To An Otherwise Fairly Interesting Evening

February 10, 2010

Last week the New York Tech Meetup hosted a “Rally for the Future.” The purpose was to unite technological savvy with do-goodery in hopes of changing the world.

There were mixed results.

With almost 700 attendees paying $20 each to attend, the Meetup raised $14,000 dollars for the Haiti relief effort. Some of the presentations were thought provoking and inspiring, while others were disorganized and confusing. The strangest twist to the evening was a surprise appearance from the Reverend Billy and the Church of “Life After Shopping.” They serenaded the audience of gadget geeks with anti-consumerist gospel music.

It wasn’t entirely clear if there was real spirituality emanating from Reverend Billy and his choir, or if they were making fun of religion – or even the audience itself.

See for yourself – Check out the video:

A full line up of speakers spent two hours asking the technologists in the audience to join them in pursuits as diverse as greening ghettos (Majora Carter) to devising million person social networks (Clay Shirky). Some highlights:

Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix gave one of the more coherent and focused talks of the evening.

The idea is very simple – to create an easy way to report public works problems to the proper officials with your cell phone. So if you walk past a wall with graffiti on it, you can stop, take a picture with your phone, and text it to the proper officials. This is one of the more genius ideas I’ve heard recently, and they’re making it happen with a mobile application this month.

He does have a beef with New York City, though. NYC 311 has yet to get an email address.

Tony Bacigalupo of New Work City told the audience we’d all be working in a laundromat in ten years – leisurely doing our laundry, sipping a latte and videochatting with our hip, stylish co-workers working from cafes, day care centers, Central Park, or anywhere with a WiFi connection. In short, in the future the office is going to be everywhere. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Connor and Aaron from UMass – Amherst gave us a civics lesson, invoking the spirit of a rally by getting the audience to yell “Freedom!”

While these college kids had lots of energy, their purpose wasn’t entirely clear. Like many speakers of the night, they spewed inspirational yet extremely vague utterances like “We have to build a future where we have priorities that matter to us.” After reminding us of some of our constitutional rights, they unveiled their concept of a “Localocracy,” which seems to be a website devoted to the freedom to petition. It doesn’t appear to be live yet.

Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund transitioned the audience to a global perspective by talking about entrepreneurialism in developing countries.

“My dream is to see basic goods and services accessible to every human on the planet.“ She wants to do that by seeing citizens of developing countries as consumers rather than charity cases. She got to talk for a long time, which made me wonder if her company was a major sponsor for the evening.

Rachael Stern of Ground Report touted the power of citizen journalism.

“For the past 1,000 years, we’ve trusted self-appointed authorities to tell us the news,” read her first slide.

Which makes me wonder – has anything really changed?

Oddly, her talk gave me more confidence in the future of professional journalism, rather than less. While citizen journalism plays an important role in getting news out quickly – intelligent, fresh, and well-edited perspective will always be in high demand. In my humble opinion.

The role of journalists today hasn’t really changed that much. We still have to sort through an enormous amount of information and determine what is worth passing along. The only change from the past 1,000 years is the amount of data we have to sort through.

“Then the people formerly known as the audience began documenting the news themselves, and telling each other,” she said, quoting Jay Rosen and Cody Brown.

But authorities still emerge from this audience – like Jay Rosen and Cody Brown themselves! So how is this revolutionary? People still want their information distilled through authorities, self-appointed or not. In the age of self-publishing, you don’t have to go to school to become an authority.

The best will still rise to the top – and technology will help us make a better future.

About the Author

Olivia Koski

Olivia Koski was born in the desert and raised in the mountains. After studying physics in college, she earned a living manipulating light for an aerospace company. She abandoned saguaros, pine trees and lasers for the skyscrapers of New York City, where she is studying the fine art of manipulating words, sound and images as a journalist. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at


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