Guest Post: Zack @ TechDay New York 2017

NY TechDay: April 18th, 2017

That person looking corny up there is me, and that shirt is one of maybe three button up shirts I own. It is one of those fancy synthetic shirts designed to be breathable and non-absorbent. I used to wear them a lot when I was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. It was very hot over there, and also very dirty, so having a shirt that didn’t absorb sweat was great. They are also easier to clean. (This is a big deal when you have to carry every gallon of laundry-water you want to use.)
I’m wearing it in this picture because I tend to sweat when I get nervous. I flew into New York just two days prior, and now suddenly I’m in a very bright building with a population greater than the town I grew up in. Keep in mind that I spent most of my days like a mushroom or nesting rat, burrowed away in the dim hole of my apartment, typing. Mere eye contact makes me uncomfortable, much less fake smiles and sweaty handshakes.
What I’m trying to make clear is that this is not my element. I was shocked when Janice offered to fly me out to NYC for this event. I thought to myself — doesn’t she know? Can’t she tell from our phone conversations that I’m socially defunct? Of course I believe in the program, and I want to do everything I can to help Powering Potential spread their valuable work — the two years I spent in Tanzania made me a lifelong advocate of development work — but this?
Well, here I am: freshly resolved to make a positive difference in the world.

Probably going to have myself an anxious vomit, thanks for asking. Oh, please no — did I forget my business cards? Wait, they’re right here. Whew. Breathe, Zack. Breathe. You got this.

Oh, lord have mercy…

The place was huge. It reminds me a little of the vendor building at the big annual event of my childhood, the Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee (which is as backwoods-redneck as it sounds). That’s where they sold things like raunchy t-shirts, custom license plate covers, hand-held massagers, and cheap knives and lighters.

The only difference being that here, the vendors print their names on the cheap crap and give it away for free to anyone who happens to wander by.

Really, Clif Bar? They’re like that kid that’s always getting perfect scores and ruining the curve. I’m over here setting up my $20 Kinkos sign, and they’ve got freaking ping-pong. I tried tweeting at them from Powering Potential’s Twitter — hoping, like a meager parasite, to benefit from an association with a well-established brand — but they ignored me. Jerks.

As the event started to wind down, and long after I’d given away all my business cards, I took a quick stroll through some of the other exhibits. After a few minutes they all seemed to smudge together into a blur of self-promotion. Here is something pointless related to the internet of things. Here is a gadget that will flash emojis and hideously invade your privacy. Here is something the CEO describes as the new Uber, except for something that isn’t taxis. Here are one, two three apps that you can’t believe you’ve lived without. Please take a complimentary corporate-logoed keychain, stress ball, or beer koozie.

At what point does our right to pursue our self-interest end, if it ever does? Sometimes I feel like America (among other Western nations) is too isolated from the realities of the world. There was nothing in that warehouse that I hadn’t managed to live without for my entire life, and yet there it all was, loud and exuberant and well-lit by fluorescent floodlights. 

There are people in the world who aren’t having their basic needs met. There are people in the world who are having their basic needs met but aren’t being given the education needed to make that basic-need-fulfillment self-sustainable. Do I really need to be able to order a picnic through my phone? Do I really need another program that links together all of my various social accounts? Do I really need another beer koozie?

My little nonprofit booth may be small and goofy, and we might not have free stuff or flashy banners, but it’s something I’m proud to put my name on.

P.S.: Big thanks to The Yard for sponsoring Powering Potential’s TechDay booth — we wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. Also a big thank you to PPI Board Member Milt Finger for offering to pay for Zack’s travel expenses. We have the greatest board members, don’t we, folks?

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