“New York City has the hottest tech scene in the world,” he told me.
Really? Even though Apple — the best-capitalized company in the world — is in Silicon Valley, not far from its rivals Google and Facebook? Even though most of the gadgets that Josh’s site covers are designed in Europe and built in Asia?
It’s the creativity of individual New Yorkers that makes the city’s tech scene so exciting.
I got a crash course in why Josh was right: I hosted and produced a series on New York’s tech scene called NYC 2.0. It still airs on Channel 25, WNYE-TV, and you can watch all seven episodes online here.
The big lesson: That while Google has opened its second-largest office in the world here, and while companies like Etsy and Meetup and Ideeli call New York home, it’s the creativity of individual New Yorkers that makes the city’s tech scene so exciting.
WATCH VIDEO: Rick Karr Takes a Look Inside Google
WATCH VIDEO: “The Hackers” NYC 2.0 Episode 1
Start with the good-guy hackers at the NYC Resistor clubhouse, which we profiled in episode 1. These nerds live and breathe technology, whether they’re building turn-indicator armbands for cyclists, crazy little dancing robots, or a fully functional scale model of a Cray supercomputer from the 1970s.
NYC Resistor is the place that spawned the awesome Makerbot — a 3-D printer you can build yourself, also profiled in our first episode. These hackers are driven by curiosity and passion, not venture capital paychecks and the quest for market share.
WATCH VIDEO: “The Travelers” NYC 2.0 Episode 2
Then there’s Mike Hill, the lone-wolf programmer who created New York’s top parking application, PrimoSpot (profiled in episode 2.) He wrote the app by himself in a Lower East Side cafe, then sold thousands of downloads at $2.99 each, thereby saving thousands of New Yorkers the indignity of a bright orange greeting card from the NYPD on their windshields.
WATCH VIDEO: “The Smartest Place on Earth” NYC 2.0 Episode 3
Scott Peterman had a dream about playing in an “air marching band” — he dreamed that he was marching in a parade while simply miming at playing a trumpet. When he woke up, he decided to build what he calls the Imaginary Marching Band, which includes a virtual trumpet, trombone, and cymbals that you play just by miming. We profiled him in episode 3.
WATCH VIDEO: “The Border” NYC 2.0 Episode 5
But my favorite solo hacker in the city is probably Becky Stern. She made herself a stylish jacket with a built-in television remote control that only does one thing: It turns off TVs, which is extraordinarily useful in sports-bars with too many screens, yet totally discreet. She teaches would-be hackers how to build their own electronics. And she hacked an 80s-vintage knitting machine so that it makes crazy-cool knitwear. We profiled her in episode 5.
I asked her what motivates her to do such cool things with technology. She answered that it was basically the same fear that motivates a lot of the city’s hyper-productive (and competitive) writers, musicians, and artists: That her friends would ask, “What did you do last week? I haven’t seen it on the Internet. Where is it?”
Besides, she says, it’s just fun.
And that’s the quality that distinguishes New York’s technologists from their colleagues on the West Coast: They’re willing to work hard, even if they’re all alone in the big city, because what they’re doing is cool. And fun.
Rick Karr is a journalist and educator who reports about the intersection of technology and culture. As a correspondent, he has appeared on various PBS series and on National Public Radio. He teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.