What We Can Learn From the Most Creative Geeks
5.18.10 | Technologies that can measure your mood, make you taller, and reunite families in the developing world are just a few of the innovations created by graduate students in New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).
The ITP spring show. Photo by tigoe.
These students, who’ve been called the most “creative geeks in New York City,” held their annual spring show earlier this month. NPR’s “On the Media” was there to talk with them and professor Clay Shirky about the future of technology and of education in the digital age.
At ITP, students are encouraged to imagine how we can use new technologies to our benefit. Their work explores robotics, web tools, mobile applications and technology-based art. Recently, ITP alum were among those who created the recent hit Foursquare – the location-based social networking tool that now has close to a million users.
Shirky, who teaches theory and practice of social media at ITP and is the author of “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” has been working with students on the development of social media applications for development organizations.
In the interview, he talks with host Brooke Gladstone about his recent partnership with UNICEF to develop an application called Family Tracing and Reunification that that uses technology to help reunite families in the developing world after major catastrophes:
When a disaster strikes, whether it’s an earthquake or a civil war, it’s really in the few hours to few days after the disaster, after the separation, that is really the golden hour. That’s the time at which you could intervene and reunite these families. And yet, the current system for managing that involves, I kid you not, loading carbon paper onto planes and flying it there.
One of Shirky’s students now runs a team of global developers working on a system that will make it easy to put a child’s picture and information onto mobile phones and laptops all over the world to help synchronize information.
Shirky says that in his 10 years at ITP, he’s seen students become more collaborative, asking questions of their more knowledgeable peers instead of professors. He attributes this shift to a change in cultural norms partly caused by technology itself:
What started with open-source software 24 years ago, the idea that things should be shareable and interfaces should be open to other kinds of uses, has now reappeared in the guise of collaborative work. […] somebody who’s adept at creating video and someone who’s adept at creating tools that make video interactive can make a more interesting project together than either of them could make by themselves.
Shirky says these new forms of collaborative art and production make him excited about the digital future and provide an interesting alternative to past exemplars of great art that have traditionally been the product of just one creative mind.
What can we produce with imaginative, noisy collaboration? The possibilities are endless.
You can listen to the full story here.
Plus: Watch video of the new inventions at ITP’s spring show at Gizmondo. Also, you can read a long piece on the work being done by young tech entrepreneurs, some alumni of the ITP program, in New York Magazine.
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