All were on display Saturday afternoon at the Stupid Sh*t No One Needs and Terrible Ideas Hackathon, an event at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program that asked participating coders, engineers and designers to create projects that were as absurd and devoid of practical value as possible.
"We wanted to make something that really gave people an opportunity to produce things of no value whatsoever, and things that no one needed, and to exercise all of their terrible ideas," said Sam Lavigne, an ITP student who, along with fellow student Amelia Winger-Bearskin, co-organized the event.
"And the ideas have been pretty impressively awesome," added Winger-Bearskin. "That was a pleasant surprise."
Some 75 registrants — many of whom were also ITP students — competed in categories like "The Internet of Stupid Things," "Edible Electronics" and "That Shouldn't Go In There," vying for prizes like a "stupid social media internship and the chance to hit a piñata filled with cigarettes and candy while wearing an Oculus Rift virtual reality mask."
The mood was decidedly lighthearted. "The atmosphere around ITP in general is playful, but this is even more playful," said David Tracy, an architect. "It's playful with no sense of serious agenda. It's kind of liberating."
Tracy, along with Sarah McKeen, a graphic designer, was creating 3D-printed masks that closely replicate their wearer's natural facial features — a sublimely dumb idea that perfectly embodied the day's theme. Why would anyone wear a mask of their own face?
Behind the silliness, however, was a critique of similar, less self-aware events, which tend to overestimate their own importance, according to Lavigne and Winger-Bearskin. "You really only have to go to one hackathon to decide that they're stupid," said Winger-Bearskin.
Lavigne's entry, the vomit app, took our contemporary obsession with problem-solving through personal technology to grotesque new heights, and Winger-Bearksin's contribution, a company that brings light to impoverished areas using kinetic energy generated by a twerking dancer, lampooned the often ineffectual do-gooder impulse of social entrepreneurship.
"A lot people, when they start to work on projects at hackathons, are thinking of problems that they're trying to solve," said Lavigne. "Frequently, the problems that they're trying to solve are really idiotic problems, or problems that don't especially need solving, or problems that can't ever be solved in the framework of a hackathon, or maybe at all."
In light of that, he said, the goal on Saturday was "to work on creating problems rather than solutions."
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