Google’s Geek Street Fair Unites Families with Techies
BY MICHAEL VAUGHAN | This was a fair that revered the geek.
As a friendly Chelsea neighbor, Google welcomed residents, families and friends to a community party that bustled with technology, science and the brain trusts of tomorrow.
Offering a bite-sized glimpse into all things tech, the first annual Geek Street Fair was held at 14th Street Park on July 31. Under the summer sunshine, kids and their families studied, experimented and played with gadgets that New York City’s tech community has been developing.
At the gate (where 15th Street meets 10th), I was welcomed by a girl wearing a bright white Google T-shirt who smiled and said, “Hi! I’m Suyeon!” She set the tone. Everyone who works for Google is startlingly friendly.
Beyond Suyeon, a throng of children were running about, into and around the many white tents set up by the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Mathematics, the New York Hall of Science, Liberty Science Center, Maker Camp and Google’s own Chrome Experiments.
Organized in part by New York’s Department of Youth and Community Development, the main purpose of the event was to advocate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to children that are underexposed to the sciences. Google wanted to show that not only were science and technology neat things to understand, but moreover, that being a geek was a blast.
For the first stop, I peeked into the Whitney Museum’s booth, which featured a slew of wire that you could shape into whatever abstract design you pleased. Numerous kids were armed with these cute little 45 volt bracelets.
As I blazed a trail around the circle, I came upon Google’s Chrome Experiments tent. It featured two separate games you could access via your Google Chrome browser (or any browser for that matter). One of them was “Racer” — an array of screens on which tiny digital cars raced around a neon track, battling toward the finish line. It was set up in such a way that your screen only had a portion of the track, whereas your connected neighbor’s screens had the rest. It was mighty hard to follow. After several minutes of closely studying a loading screen and listening to kids pelt the Googlers with their impatience, I was informed that Racer was an “experiment.”
Elsewhere in the tent, a massive LCD screen hosted a very realistic looking skeeball game. The interface allowed you to use a smartphone to hurl the ball at the screen. By going to the same website on your phone and your laptop, you could sync the two and start this pseudo-Wii game.
On the way towards the last few stations, an impenetrable whirring wall of sound erupted from a guitar amplifier. It was an experimental piece in which washers were clanged against a very long bolt. Contact microphones amplified the vibrations, which shot the cacophony into your eardrums. The teens behind the idea smiled innocently as they blasted a howitzer of noise at passersby. I had to hustle through the war zone.
My last stop, Maker Camp, was a seriously neat idea. Google has flipped the concept of summer camp into the digital realm. The camp is a Google Plus page, and the campers are kids and families who’ve liked the page. It is an online democratization of the camp experience.
Campers have access to daily videos that walk them through the experiments they can do with mostly household items. If they like, they can participate in a hangout with a “camp counselor” and discuss how their project is going via a Google Plus group video chat where you can link with up to 30 people at one time.
Maker Camp has celebrities who’ve taught mini-lessons. The band OK Go came to Google’s studios to show campers how to build an electronic piano using bananas and wire. Imogen Heap has also led young makers through a tutorial. With over one million followers on Google Plus, the project has been immensely successful.
With Maker Camp as a recent example of their measurable success, Google is turning the spotlight on next generation’s tech gurus. The Geek Street Fair showed children that the gadgets you use every day have a story (and a team) behind them. Googlers and techies of all kinds were coming out from behind their code, equations and robots to mingle with the little ones and inspire them to be the Googlers of tomorrow. As this was the first time Google has hosted this annual event, it seems to be only the beginning of their investment in New York’s youth.