Thought-Provoking Discussion at October’s Hudson Valley Tech Meetup

Last week’s HV Tech Meetup welcomed back a crowd favorite: Ads! This duo creates light-hearted parodies of popular songs, the actual lyrics replaced with poetic musings about the evening’s speakers (and, like in Wednesday’s case, they sometimes even improvise, creating a “Take Your Seat” song on the spot to herd the audience toward the stage). They set the mood for an evening of thought-provoking discussion.

HVTech_October_0017 The first talk came from local designer and recent SUNY New Paltz graduate Melanie Axelrod, who discussed her project “The Sound of Many Sleeping Bees,” an exploration of human interactions with mobile technology. At seven years old, Melanie says she was already dreaming of a device like an iPhone, but at the time it seemed impossible. Now, 16 years later, she says “little me would be pleased.” It’s not all sweetness and light in the world of mobile tech, though—Melanie describes her relationship with her phone as “borderline abusive.” Phones “imitate really rude people,” she says, by constantly interrupting us with notifications—even as we try to be productive and present in our lives. Because of this, our relationships with our smartphones can quickly go from helpful to harmful.

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How can we solve this? There’s a few ways. Just like we would with people who are rude and abusive, we can steer clear of devices that harm us. Or, we can improve our interactions with our mobile devices by letting them “get to know us” better. One way to do that, Melanie posits, is to inform your mobile device when you’ll be occupied—whether it’s with work, school, or family time—so it can save your notifications for the next time you’re available. And the name of her project—”The Sound of Sleeping Bees?” It comes from the idea that she wants to quiet, to some extent, the constant buzzing we experience from our smartphones.

Next, Jennifer Schwartz Berky and the Midtown Arts District Steering Committee presented their vision for this growing Kingston neighborhood. The committee has done their research, studying over 40 arts districts across the United States to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not. One of their key concerns: repurposing spaces and facilities in Midtown that already exist in a way that better serves the community. One example is the new film and TV production studio, run by actress and director Mary Stuart Masterson, that’s planned for an abandoned industrial building in Midtown—just the latest of many former warehouses and vacant industrial spaces to get a new artistic lease on life. Another example is the “Greenline,” a trail planned to run along the former railroad tracks and connect Kingston’s neighborhoods and Ulster County as a whole in a more walkable, bikeable way.

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The latest project of the committee was the Kingston Art Walk, a city-wide studio tour (an event on which our project manager Joe Gonzalez also worked closely). Jennifer’s original vision of success was 25 artists—and the event far surpassed that, with over 80 artists in the fields of painting, poetry, piano, dance, ceramics, and more displaying their work in 41 locations.

This event underlined the huge benefit of arts districts to a city—”arts districts mean business,” says the committee. “Every block in Kingston is changing,” they told the audience. Their job is to make sure it’s changing for the better.

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And lastly, we had the honor of hosting the CEO of Meetup himself, Scott Heiferman, on our stage! HV Tech isn’t a political organization—we welcome members from all sides of the aisle—but because candidate Zephyr Teachout extended the invite to Scott Heiferman, she took to the stage to introduce him, and enthusiastically declare her love for HV Tech. We’re blushing, Zephyr! (Do you know someone who might be a perfect HV Tech speaker? Wanna introduce us? Our stage is your stage—reach out!)

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“I’ve been to a lot of Meetups, and this is one of the best,” he said. He went on to discuss the core value of Meetup: bringing people together in their cities to explore new things. Meetup gets 109 new RSVPs per minute, he demonstrated with a live new RSVP feed—and each of those RSVPs is a person about to make new connections in their local communities.

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This is the power of technology and social media to inspire real-life actions, he says; “the Internet is technically a network of computers, but it’s actually a network of people.” He also told the audience to give themselves a pat on the back for making the time for HV Tech. “It might be easier to just flip through your Instagram feed,” he quipped. “Recognize how powerful it is that you show up.”

What’s next for HV Tech: a holiday shindig, likely happening in early December. Keep your eye on Meetup for the details! We’re so happy to be closing out another year with all of you inspiring, creative, smart folks.

Photos courtesy of HV Tech Partner Eberhardt Smith.