The internet promised to be a utopia, a place where all were equal and ideas shared freely. Much like physical space, it has turned out to be the reverse: an unequal, unfair, increasingly private space where a few billionaire investors set the context and standard for the web as a whole. And much like physical space, the needs of the few not the many are celebrated and promoted, while community groups and organisations for progressive social good are left in the dust. We are entering an era where our online and physical identities are one and the same, without the proper tools to critically evaluate this as engaged citizens.
We have a solution-focussed culture of invention and entrepreneurship, where solutions are valorized above understanding problems. Hackdays and “tech for good” initiatives’ problem-identifying skills bring to mind the ridiculous setups for infomercials selling over-engineered solutions to simple problems.
In reality, real social change is hard. Taking an asset-based approach Read more about ABCD on Wikipedia, any given problem generally already has multiple groups engaged in solving it. Lean approaches See Mauyra (2012), for example tend to focus only on the practice of producing a product. To engage with social issues, we need to understand the history of what has happened before, what’s worked (or not), and who the key stakeholders are.
GFSC aims to take stock of where we are as people invested in progressive social change and reject the narratives of the mainstream technology press and culture.
Most community organisations don’t have teams of designers or coders or huge sums of venture capital funding - and yet this is what the vast majority of tech funding and writing is focussed on. Our experiences are not represented in the tech press - finding pragmatic solutions to low-budget problems is not as sexy as new frameworks or fancy technologies.
Most organisations have individual freelancers, or amateurs splitting a web presence among all their other jobs – voices rarely, if ever, heard at mainstream events, focussed as they are solely on “best in class” technical solutions, not solving real-life issues. And the tech sector has profoundly failed to provide solutions for, or educate en masse, internet citizens to have the digital tools that are essential for a functioning democracy.
Perhaps this is most keenly shown in the term “user”. An industry-standard term that reduces citizens to keyboard operators, prospects, customers. One that immediately states that the only social text we care about is that between human and machine - not seeing people as holistic beings inhabiting many spaces, with many needs. We need to find better ways of communicating what we do and create a technological practice that’s primarily about people and communities, not technologies. GFSC is just the first step in realising this vision.
More to come. Please get in touch if you want to contribute to this vision.