How I'll use technology for good in 2017
Reflecting on my last year of open source work has me considering what projects and approaches have been effective, in what ways I should improve and work harder, and how I should focus my time over the next year.
Journalism vs civic technology
I care deeply about journalism and community organizing. Over the past few years I cofounded and served as an organizer for Open Seattle, a civic & government technology volunteer group associated with Code for America.
The work of journalism and civic/gov technology has a lot of overlap. But it can mean the difference between holding government accountable and being paid by government. I must choose one. We all must be clear about this distinction and its tradeoffs, particularly after the presidential election.
I would not be effective as government staff. I will not get paid by government. That's me. That's my personal decision. Your decision might be different, and that's ok.
The work of improving government services for residents is essential. Do you believe you'll be effective working inside government toward that goal?
Do it. We need you.
We also need more than government technology
We need more journalists working to hold accountable those in government who don't have the best interests of residents in mind.
We need community organizations advocating for the needs of residents, particularly those who are typically underrepresented.
We need news organizations with diverse management & staff with inclusivity and anti-harassment training so they are better equipped to serve underrepresented folks.
We need to use technology to better support existing news & community organizations not by building more technology, but by funding those organizations directly from the proceeds of the tech industry.
It's both inspiring and unsettling to think about how the extra income of a handful of technologists could easily fund a small news operation. Think about what companies could do! For example: look at (and donate to) this member drive by local publication The Seattle Globalist and read about their current situation.
Something has changed
The results of the presidential election changed the way I've been thinking about my place in the world.
The uncanny valley of my working life has evolved into a rotten pumpkin of burnout.
I have no patience for doing almost the right thing.
So what's next?
Open Seattle & Third Place Technologies
I'm currently recruiting new lead organizers for Open Seattle. I'm excited about turning Open Seattle into a self-sustaining organization that can continue on without me. For the last few years I've been an organizer for Open Seattle, and I think that the group is too white, too male, and that we need women and people of color leading the organization who can better represent the Seattle's residents, and who can better encourage participation from people with divers backgrounds, skills, and experiences.
Recently I joined the board of Third Place Technologies, a non-profit formed by Shelly Farnham to empower communities through innovation in technology. I'm looking forward to putting more of my volunteer time into that role to explore how to foster hyperlocal community self-assessment and collective action, and researching the unique privacy and identity management concerns of participating in the public sphere.
I've started a small business named City Arcade, where I'm working on publications, events, and educational tools and resources. I expect this to be a part-time, evenings & weekends project while I do consulting or a full-time job as my main work.
Focusing on journalism, education, & community organizing
My focus for the next year will include:
- building tools for newsrooms and community organizations.
- creating resources and tools for learning to code and build for the web and holding workshops.
- gathering, organizing, and sharing information so communities can better self-organize.
- consulting on the production of web applications and using part of the proceeds to fund the work of journalists and organizers.
Donating money & volunteering time
One of my biggest goals for the next year is to donate more to local and national organizations that support vulnerable, underrepresented populations, and that are protecting net neutrality, freedom of the press, and civil rights.
I've come to believe that as technologists we should put less effort into volunteering our tech skills to help people in need, and put more effort into donating parts of our relatively large incomes to organizations who are already doing the work.
I still plan to create equitable digital services, to create software that improves the lives of residents, to design systems where people receive and share the information they need to self-organize.
But before doing those things, make donations. Before writing code, do research. Learn who is already working on the issues that interest me, and make donations so they are better supported. Volunteer time with those organizations doing non-technical work. Learn who is involved and what kinds of problems they are facing. With that knowledge, I'll be better equipped to design software that addresses the needs of community organizations and residents, not just solving problems that I think may exist.
By learning about the budgets of those organizations, the impact that donations can make, and the daily needs of the organizations, I may find that technical solutions to problems aren't urgent. I may find that what the organization needs most is cash.