Tucked behind a curtain in Soho gallery Location One, some of New York’s most up-to-date techies congregate. Some are discussing the transition from “http” to “https,” others are comparing their highest Skyrim score. They are all gathered here for Dorkbot, the 11-year-old technology forum that happens here the first Wednesday of every month.
The bespectacled and iPhone-clasping crowd is headed by Dorkbot founder Doug Repetto, who got the idea for the meetings after moving to New York to work at Columbia University. He wanted to create a place for people to “share what they’re doing informally,” he tells me. After sending emails to different technology organizations around New York, the first Dorkbot was assembled and the event has since grown to cities all around the world. And the meetings live up to Repetto’s vision of informality, even relying on guests and visitors to provide food and drinks for the meeting’s snack bar (last Wednesday’s buffet included wine, donuts and pretzel chips). Repetto wanted to make it “as much not like a club as possible,” and says that about three quarters of the crowd changes at every meeting.
Last week’s first offering was from Josh Silverman, a designer involved in making ABC’s Times Square screen and CEO of Pretty Extreme Industries. Silverman’s invention, called “Synplode,” is an interactive dance floor where dancers’ movement across a dance-grid is tracked by an infrared camera. As dancers pass over different units on the grid, different sounds are produced, all of it meshing into a lush, electro-dance soundscape. (You can see a demonstration of the dancefloor here.)
Next up was artist, designer, and “neuro enthusiast” Pinar Yoldas. Despite her soft-spokenness and twee looks, Yoldas’s presentation was particularly graphic and imagined with what kind of creatures might come into being if the world were created today in some kind of consumer-industrial apocalypse. The techno swamp monsters, according to Yoldas, would be a “purely sexual species,” with females made from a cluster of mammaries, and the “Mega-male” a stringy creature made of interconnected phalluses (“It has no brain,” Yoldas made a point of saying). The last five minutes of her presentation involved plans for shock-therapy to stop credit card use.
To brighten the mood slightly, the last presenter of the evening was professor and Bill Nye the Science Guy lookalike, Arno Klein. Klein has taken a picture of his (adorable) daughter every day for 7 years, and has mapped and aligned pictures of her face using brain-imaging technology to morph and layer her image from birth till childhood. It’s like if Einstein were obsessed with LOLcats. You can see a video of the first five years of this experiment here.
The best part of the evening is the post-presentation discussion. As the crowd includes mostly science and technology peers (and the occasional fascinated college student), the repartee is mostly suggestions more than questions, one audience member even suggesting that Yoldas modify her shock collar so that it give massages if the wearer buys things like fair-trade coffee. Next month’s meeting will feature presentations from video and sound artists Katherine Liberovskaya and Keiko Uenishi, and Ranjit Bhatnagar of moonmilk who has just begun chronicling a February instrument-a-day challenge on his website.