Brownsville DiscoTech: Intergenerational Technology Skillshare

In January of 2018, I helped organize an event called the Brownsville DiscoTech, inspired by the DiscoTech model originally developed by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition in 2012. The goal was to demystify technology and to showcase the diversity of experience and expertise held by people in Brownsville. We focused on attracting the very young and very old (who are often excluded from technology-focused spaces), and on everyone being able to teach something in ten minutes or less.

Some stories we heard from the event:
  • One attendee struggled to figure out how to respond to her children and grandchildren, who constantly send her messages on WhatsApp. Another attendee sat with her to show her how to text back, and to send voice messages.
  • Several children and adults had their first experience with robotics, as Malik Gist and Mike Danza from Kingsborough Community College showed people how to use and modify a lego robot.
  • One station manager brought a solar powered backpack, while another had a portable wireless network kit for use in disasters, in need of an off-the-grid power source.
  • The elders in charge of the 37-year-old Brownsville Heritage House expressed that they wanted more similar events to promote technology in the neighborhood, and that they wanted to work more with the library.

The event showed the potential for a way to vastly expand BPL’s capacity to provide relevant, current tech education, without hiring more staff, and without needing any one person to be the end-all be-all expert on everything digital. These kinds of non-hierarchical, democratic, intergenerational event formats are possible in all of the 59 library branches around Brooklyn, and can help inform library staff about what their patrons are interested in learning and teaching.

Photographs by Gregg Richards