A Q&A with the Explore Rochester Team
In today’s tech-laden society, it seems one can hardly go a day without overhearing something about the ills of our culture’s over reliance on handheld devices; whether its the dangers of talking on our phones while driving or how the non-grammar of “texting” is ruining the English language. I believe we all have experienced the frustrations of walking behind some poor oblivious soul updating their Facebook status as they unknowingly cut you off 5 times in a matter of seconds. The most widely expressed criticism levied against the millennial generation would have to be that they spend the majority of their waking hours with their eyes and ears glued to their cell phones. And while it seems we ritualistically trade real experience for virtual experience, Explore Rochester is working to challenge this paradigm.
We sat down with Steve Carter, Justin Dusett, and Dan Gribbin of Explore Rochester to discuss how social media is positively shaping our city’s community, culture and landscape.
Makers: What is Explore Rochester and how did it all start?
Steve: The real beginnings of Explore Rochester began in March 2012, as a hashtag on Instagram, but the actual account didn’t come till later. While in college, my friend Sean Pritzkau (Week 52 Contributor!) and I spent our weekends downtown and exploring the Rochester area. As someone that wasn’t a native, I was enthralled by the history, architecture, and natural beauty Rochester had to offer. After discovering downtown’s abandoned subway for the first time, Sean and I posted photos to the same hashtag, as a way for others to see our photos in the same place. Over the course of 2 years, over 7,000 photos were added to the hashtag #explorerochester. At this point, I finally decided to just do something, even if I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. In December 2014, the Explore Rochester account was created with the idea of giving people the opportunity to share their perspective of Rochester, whatever it may be. Shortly after, Joe Snell and Justin Dusett came on board to help with design – but as our meetings became more regular, they ended up becoming influential in helping shape Explore Rochester.
Makers: We all know that online community is not a substitute for in-person interaction. How can social media be used to create an online community that can bring people together in a face to face setting? How does the Year One Gallery fit in with this idea?
Justin: Algorithms aside, social media is only getting bigger and only becoming more integrated in our lives. So our responsibility is to make sure it is not becoming a substitute for life; but rather a way to enhance it. Explore Rochester is working to flip the script on social media. You can follow tons of people on Instagram but never actually know (meet) them. When we flock to social media in search of community, we’re only seeing its reflection. On the internet; when you throw your hand up, someone will always give you a high 5. That's not always the case in public. It forces us to be vulnerable, which is terrifying but rewarding. In those moments we experience our humanity.
The visual nature of instagram can almost bring you to the experience others are having; you can see what someone else sees. Instead of being an account about a person, we built an account around shared experience. Physical, human interaction is the next logical step in that shared experience. Through events like ROCstameets and the Year One Gallery, we’re working to reintroduce a sense of humanism to this digital platform. Our first Explore Rochester-facilitated ROCstameet saw about 60 people come out. Almost 500 people showed up to Makers for Year One.
[ pauses to do math ]
So in a year we increased our physical gathering eightfold. We’ve already accomplished our initial goal; to create a community around a shared vision and to connect people with people and people with place. Now, we’re working on expanding that vision and watching that community evolve.
Makers: Can you talk a little bit about social media and how it gives Explore Rochester a platform to show off our city? How does social media give a renewed excitement to the city for people that may live outside of the city or state?
Steve: We chose to start on Instagram because it’s a visually focused medium. It can feel like a mini photo journal at times, and that exactly what we wanted. There is also a really active community on Instagram in Rochester, and with 7,000+ photos on #explorerochester at the time of launch (32,000+ as of today), it made a lot of sense to start there. We wanted to give this community a platform to share their perspective, and instagram already had all the ingredients we were looking for.
Dan:Explore Rochester is actually turning out to be a great place for keeping up with our city from around the world. I often see people originally from Rochester who have moved away comment on photos of their favorite places talking about how much they miss Rochester.
Makers: What can people expect from Explore Rochester in the future? How are you going to continue to to grow the community?
Steve: This whole thing started as an experiment, and in many ways it still is. We keep trying new things, taking risks, learning as we go. We hope that the Instagram account is just the starting point. Stay tuned…