All opinions expressed in these episodes are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the organizations for which our guests work.
Afua Bruce and Amy Sample Ward are no strangers to the blurry line of civic tech. Between them they’ve chalked up over 30 years working within and alongside government. Much of this work has been with communities: Amy chairs an elections commission, and contributes to public radio; Afua worked with the FBI, the White House, and New America. And they both have a ton of experience both building and deploying technology at scale.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that their new book, The Tech That Comes Next, isn’t really about tech. Or rather, it is, but it’s about technology as a means to an end, to be embraced only once we’ve decided what ends we want. The full title of the book continues, “how changemakers, technologists, and philanthropists can build an equitable world,” and this is where much of our conversation centred when I interviewed them in preparation for our FWD50 Book Club on March 31.
Early proponents of the Internet saw it as a sort of borderless utopia. “To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are,” wrote Rick Levine in The Cluetrain Manifesto, published at the dawn of the new millennium. “We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.”
A decade later, Big Tech implored us to move fast and break things. And two decades later, governments reeled from bots that would divide us, and algorithms that would marginalize us. “What is the role we’re giving technology?” asked Amy when we spoke, “because I think within that, we are exposing what we are valuing and who we are valuing. And I think we are valuing technology more than community—and that’s an opportunity to change.”
As we moved on to the topic of nudges and sludges—incentives and disincentives built into processes—Afua returned to this sentiment. “What’s important here is to … recognize that technology isn’t neutral. It’s built on the systems and the ideas that we are already putting into place.”
Humans seldom notice or question the technology that has, by the inexorable hand of progress, become part of our every waking moment. The Tech That Comes Next is a reminder that behind that tech are human lives, systems, ideas, and communities. Amy and Afua want to show us technology for what it is: Not a fact of life we must accept as delivered unto us, but a tool with which to build the world we want.
To find out more about this great book and to order your copy, please visit: https://thetechthatcomesnext.com.