Tech for Social Change

Tech. Moves. Fast.

I fondly remember the endless hours spent as a child on my Apple IIc playing a text game where I enter a room, there is a chest in the middle of the hall and a door on the right.  What do I want to do?

The tough choices I had to make. It was goblins behind the door, I picked the door. It still keeps me up at night–what was in that chest? Why were the floppy disks so big. Why me?

Technology has been my lifelong obsession. Back in the mid-2000’s I was doing web work (here’s my cute business website and for all my fans, my old DJ website). Ahh, the nostalgia. The comfort of simpler times.

Nostalgia is lovely. I know, I know, the present is the point of power, but I long for so many moments. To be able to slip back into an ordinary day of the distant past would be an incredible experience, and is a constant reminder for me to savor each day.

We Haven’t Kept Up

It’s comforting to slip into nostalgia in these times of divisive unrest, of political nightmare after nightmare. The disgrace of the swearing-in of Kavanaugh and a rapid reshaping of our court systems through a very usual amount of federal judges being able to be appointed (thirty-nine in total, Obama had a total of twenty-seven in his eight years).

Technology brought the T**** administration into fruition, and has kept the wildly unstable man stable in the polls because of his masterful manipulation of information with his direct communication via Twitter, his discrediting of the credible, hacks, Cambridge Analytica, the war on truth, and using our evolving understanding of human psychology to manipulate and control.

We can’t go back to that hallway and open the chest instead of the door. The goblins are out and they are in our pockets, shifting our lives in ways which can feel as if they are out of our control. In some ways they are out of control but we nevertheless have the right to fight for ethics in tech, and we are.

Our Shifting Perceptions

The public has a burgeoning awareness of the unsavory underbelly of the once idolized Silicon Valley. It’s being seen as a place that builds technology which prioritizes profit over people, that harvests our data without consent, and does everything it can to maximize profits. Just like every other corporation does (shout out to B Corps though).

Tech gets by with their PR machines, well-crafted brand perceptions, the love they have bestowed upon us with their quality products, and also with the same manipulative psychological tactics oppressors use. Finding new techniques to make digital products physically addictive is commonplace in the tech scene; the feelings of guilt I imagine are often reconciled with the thought that the positive mission statements of their companies mean that the more they get us to use their product the more good they are doing in the world.

Silicon Valley has a plethoraof issues, from a lack of diversity, general un-awareness of social or environmental justice, and the cut-throat pace employees are forced to take to keep — thanks to well crafted HR and compensation strategies.

Silicon Valley understands studies that businesses with ethics built into their core principles last much longer than those without. They understand it’s all about keeping the user happy, and that allows for a lot of ethics. They know good-hearted people are often top of their field and recruiting strategies and corporate culture is built to cater this. This keeps the profits up, and the shareholders happy.

Thankfully Silicon Valley workers are generally extremely liberal, diverse, wholehearted, and well-intentioned. These are things to be very grateful for — if conservative interests controlled silicon valley like the way they do broadband or cell service…

Business can be brutal. US Corporations can be sued by shareholders for not putting profit ahead of all else. Tech understands to survive and thrive they must strike a balance between ethics and profits. But of course we need to push the needle towards ethics much harder and for every corporation.

There is certainly a balance we must draw between a business’s efficacy and ethics — we must consider making sacrifices in ethics in order to be more impactful with our social good missions.  Striking that balance is rough.

Technology got us here, and I firmly believe it will get us out — but not without our continued push towards social justice, human rights, and putting the feet to the fire of Silicon Valley’s systems of thought and abuses of power.

We must be patient and persistent in our pursuit of technology for social good. It is enormous and moves fast, so we have a very long way to go.

What You Can Do

Learn how to take back control of your data from Facebook, Google, and more.

Consider using an alternative to Google like DuckDuckGo, the open-source browsers Firefox, and maybe Ghostery to take more control of your privacy when browsing.

For extreme anonymity perhaps a VPN or Tor (Tor is slow and the combo isn’t needed but you can access the dark web). These won’t keep you safe from data collection on sites where you log in (FB, Twitter, Gmail, etc), but everything else will be anonymous (including Google searches).

You are also encouraged to support the Electronic Freedom Foundation and nonprofits you believe in!

Feel free to share this article on Facebook and Twitter with some good old fashioned irony.

❤️ Samantha 10/7/18

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