Now in its fourth year, SouthNEXT brought an art, ideas and music festival to South Orange on Nov. 10 and 11, with activities at South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) and Seton Hall.
The two-day event was founded, produced and coordinated by Stephen Schnall and featured “creative collisions” that ignited novel ideas about technology and mindfulness, productivity and purpose, according to the SouthNEXT website.
The event kicked off with a keynote speaker, Carol Barash, who dubbed herself as the “Story Whisperer” because of her ability to draw out stories from other people and connect them to each other. Her presentation was called “Stories from a Different Perspective.”
Karmen Yap, a junior finance major, attended the event as a volunteer photographer and shared her insights about Barash’s talk.
“This presentation contributed a connection between ideas of self and creative writing. People ended up sharing with each other about their stories as part of the activity she hosted, which brought people together,” Yap said.
Following the keynote session, Caroline Chubb Calderon gave a talk titled, “The Point of Us – Reclaiming The Purpose of Humanity in the Age of Machines.” Calderon spoke about artificial intelligence and how its ever-rising impact in the community cannot replace the effect of humanity.
“We need to work on leveling up our humanity,” Calderon said. “Our humanity is already under erosion.
We’re in a midst of a global tech crisis, and we’re losing the quintessential quality of humanity, which is empathy.”
Natalie Calegari, a junior nursing major, said she attended the event to represent the Student Government Association. “The mindfulness lecture on Artificial Intelligence really got to me,” Calegari said. “This is where I cried. She talked about all the things that are wrong with the way humans use technology: about the loneliness and depression that people face, especially teens, because of their altered perception of reality due to social media. I guess I cried because I know someone going through that.”
The first day of presentations concluded with a cocktail party, where attendees were able to connect with the speakers and performers of SouthNEXT.
On Sunday at Seton Hall, the event featured multiple discussions, including “System Overload — Don’t Let your Tech Rule You,” “Magic, Leadership and Transcendence,” “Privacy vs. Censorship vs. Technology,” “The Merry Metaverse — Communal Well-Being in Immersive Reality,” “Tools of Hope,” and “Mindfulness in our Community — SHU Students and local residents discuss what comes next.”
Calegari said the cybersecurity panel stood out to her and that it was interesting. “The presenter brought up three real-life scenarios that have happened that sprung up debates on personal data security versus government protection using access to our data, like a ‘Big Brother’ conversation,” she explained. “He brought up panelists with different outlooks on the issue — one was a ‘hacker,’ one a policeman, one an expert on laws of the cyber world.”
Overall, Yap said she was enriched by the presentations given by inspiring people.
“The sessions I attended were thought-provoking, meaningful, and enabled me to gain new insights about the world today,” she said.
Calegari explained her concern for the audiences that attended the event. “It was really good, but I felt like the audience was wrong,” she said. “Mostly old people came and it was probably made to target a younger audience [students], but not many came out.”
Kristel Domingo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.