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NYC Meetup Explosion: Tangible Connections in a Digital Culture

Posted in Knerds on March 25, 2013 by

Thanks to meetup.com, you can find a gathering to match every shade of identity, interest, career, and hobby you might have. For software engineers, there’s New York Software Engineers (1,800 members), NYC Java (2,700 members), NYC Python (nearly 3,000), Hadoop User Group (over 1,800), and New York Open Statistical Programming (2,500). Knewton has been a proud host of meetups for all these great groups.

Within the tech industry alone, edtech, adtech, healthtech, cleantech, and publishing tech all have their respective groups and subgroups. Some groups like the famously large NY Tech Meetup (30,000+ members) have even given rise to meetup groups that specialize in getting together before and after the larger meetup, so that group members can network and bond in a more intimate setting. The phenomenon is clearly a reflection of the strength of the NY tech community, which now rivals that of Silicon Valley.

As someone who’s been following the immersive media and “deep media” trends, I think the explosion of the New York meetup scene is also a reflection of a larger trend in society focused around the importance of the physical, sensory, and immediate. According to JWT Intelligence, a global trendspotting firm, the more time we spend in the digital world, the more we value time not spent in front of a screen. The more we digitize our lives, the more intensity we seek from our physical experiences. The more productive we are as a result of all this new technology, the more we want to feel and connect as well.

Take a look around you, and you’ll see evidence of this trend. On the home and lifestyle front, there’s the sudden ubiquity of design, which reflects a new desire to find beauty and meaning in the everyday and in one’s immediate environment (Fab.com started off as a gay design site until it became clear there was much broader appeal). Consider, also, the craftsmanship movement fueled by the rise of Etsy, as well as the Do-It-Yourself ethos rippling across every industry from food to education.

Everywhere you look, you’ll find romanticization and fetishization of the physical and sensory. With flash sales saturating the market, sites like Thrillist which offer curated site-exclusive experiences are all the rage as companies look to differentiate themselves by offering rare and distinct experiences on top of good deals. Outrageous, uniquely packaged experiences can now be bought on sites like Gilt (you can drive around in a luxury car, with paparazzi racing behind you), leading me to think that the next big thing will be day- and weekend-long immersive events, fashioned for increasingly specific and discriminating tastes — think interactive theater, mystery dinners, and spartan mud runs kicked up a level.

As the “age of abundance” ushered in by the advent of big data brings basic goods and services to more and more, the fashionable and trendy will search for the rare and exclusive in crafted experiences they can “collect” and showcase (social energy which companies like Facebook and Pinterest will appreciate and encourage). Some pundits like William Bainbridge even say that LARPing (live action role play) and all its varieties may become mainstream: “With ubiquitous Internet connectivity, and mobile access through cellphones or PDAs, it is possible this genre could grow into a major industry, possibly integrated with traditional activities such as history-oriented tourism, nature trail hiking, or stock market trading.”

These trends and movements should allay some widespread fears about the concern with efficiency taking over our lives. Human beings are emotional and physical creatures who will seek to feel and connect no matter what — and who will use new technology to feel and connect in increasingly sophisticated ways.

All these cultural shifts have become so pronounced that renowned theorist, Daniel Pink goes as far to say in his fascinating book, A Whole New Mind, that right-brained people will rule the future. With the amount of knowledge and content proliferating (there have never been as many books, articles, sites, magazines, and blogs in existence), curation, aggregation, commentary, personalization, and context will start generating serious value since people will need some way to digest, absorb, and process the flood of content out there.

Back to meetups. Curious? Don’t know where to start? Check out the monthly meetups hosted by Knewton in our office near Union Square (our livestream provides a sense of what goes down during these happenings). A rundown of some of our recent events:

Check out our events calendar for the most up to date information on events. Mark your calendar! Next NYEdTech Meetup we’re hosting is April 16, 2013.