November 21st, 2019
The tech industry has long held the belief that technology is apolitical. People are flawed, but the machines? They are neutral. They are pure.
This is ridiculous, of course. People make the machines. We write the algorithms that can’t recognize dark skin tones. We decide to downplay or ignore harassment on our platforms. There are a plethora of examples in books like Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neill, Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong. Technology is political because people are political.
What excites me is that finally, our industry is starting to admit that yes, our work is political. Our work has repercussions. And we can use our talents for good — not just to line the pockets of our capitalist technocrat overlords. And maybe, just maybe, we have a civic duty to engage with politics.
After the 2016 election, several volunteer organizations popped up with the goal of connecting technologists with progressive candidates, whose tech acumen lags seriously behind that of Republicans. I spend a lot of my spare time volunteering for two such organizations, Tech for Campaigns and Ragtag. We get to support candidates and non-profits trying to introduce gun safety legislation, protect women’s healthcare, act to mitigate climate change, and further many more progressive issues.
These are both huge organizations. TFC boasts over 10,000 volunteers. I’ve personally collaborated with easily a hundred other technologists on political or non-profit websites, and digital advertising for candidates across the country. There are so many volunteers that I get ridiculously excited when I see someone I recognize working on a project. Tech feels like a super small industry sometimes, so getting to meet so many new folks I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know? That’s gold.
Working with fellow tech folks on these projects gives me so much hope for the future. Everyone I’ve worked with, regardless of background, job, or experience, has been enthusiastic, kind, and dedicated to making a positive difference. It’s such a different vibe from the “I was just doing my job” discourse I see so often on Twitter.
Getting to work with candidates and their staffers is like a whole new world into how grassroots politics works. I’ve learned a lot just by my small measure of involvement. It’s humbling to see how much technology doesn’t matter sometimes, especially with local campaigns were knocking on doors and talking to people face-to-face can make the biggest difference. Not our usual “tech is the most powerful industry” narrative, eh?
To me, new technology is always fun and interesting. But seeing so many people volunteer to support progressive causes? That lights a fire in my gut. That makes me want to keep trudging forward, step by step. Together, we can make a difference.