In response to take back the future

In high school, I took a computer science class because I liked to play computer games. I never intended for it to become an outlet for expression, a STEM safe haven for my creative urges. I fell for the craft as much as I fell for the people and brands that were the face of it in society.

I’m heavily drawn to ideals, so nothing drew me more than the shining G, which had started to become the face of everyone’s experience with the internet. I wrote private love letters to Google and binged the “If Google Was A Guy” series. I was enamored by their “do no evil” slogan and drive to make the world better and empower everyone with technology. I watched The Internship with bated breath, picturing myself in the shoes of these hopeful students and nerdy engineers using their computer powers for good. I admired Google for providing a space where software empowered people to be themselves, a medium to reflect our quirks, our curiosities, our innocence, and our shame. It was an extension of us—the poster child for how technology could help us, as a people be smarter, better, truer to ourselves.

As a loyal supporter and advocate of the tech industry. I couldn’t believe my heroes would do anything wrong, at least not intentionally. I started to idolize the very identity of a technologist as pioneers of improving our default state of life. All to say, I entered the industry from the complete opposite end of Jasmine, yet our perspectives have coalesced to a meeting space, an understanding that we need to discuss all the good and bad of the cultural phenomenon that has seeped into every corner of our lives in order to move forward.

Many years later when I came to Silicon Valley for the first time for an internship in college, my expectations were finally put to the test in reality. I dreamt of a city full of passionate, smart, and slightly socially inept optimists. I hoped for a utopian place where those, who cared about the future, were working unflagging to bring that dream to life and to our hands. I wished for a place free of rigid forms of thinking, blatant discrimination, and petty sabotage. I found a lot of the good I had hoped for, along with a lot of the bad that I couldn’t imagine I would find in my utopian dream. With all the optimistic technologists, I found just as many people struggling to fight for their lifelong homes and opportunists manipulating for power. There were companies made to make a quick buck and policies designed to further reward the powerful at the cost of the marginalized. I found myself at the center of a paradox, a dissonance between what I believed and what I discovered.

Having lived in San Francisco, a place that is simultaneously the heart of the Silicon Valley technology hub and home to some of the worst homelessness in the country, for the past couple years, my relationship has similarly tempered to technology. I see and acknowledge both the incredible good and incredible evil that it has advanced. Despite the sudden influx of all the bad that technology and technologists can perpetuate, and sometimes even in spite of the noblest of intentions, I didn’t want to give up. If there’s one thing the dissonance taught me, it’s that everything is malleable, shapeable, changeable.

Reflecting on the tension of living in San Francisco, I settled on optimism as the only path forward:

Perhaps it was coming to the understanding that optimism is the closest thing we have to a boundless energyーa substance that costs nothing to be produced and has only the potential to multiply when released into the world.

Jasmine argues for an action-oriented yet ideal-chasing perspective towards taking our future into our own hands, to demand and fight for the change we want to see in both our words and our daily actions, but how do we convince technologists to reject the financial and power incentives of advancing the status quo?

Traditionally, we’re taught to follow the rules and to maintain propriety. I love the term “utopian demand,” which Jasmine references in the article for how we can demand foundational changes for our future. How might we transform belief at scale to reverse the conditioning to accept what is given to us as it is? I think we have to teach an infallible belief in the power to change, to shape and rebuild our environments and underlying systems. When technology first took over the world, it felt like magic because it was beyond comprehension for the vast majority of society. In order for us to seize technology for our own benefit rather than immense corporations and governments, we, as technologists, have the responsibility to make our technological tools malleable; that is, we must make it not only possible but also approachable for everyone, not just technologists, to decode the black box of our technological magic and to adapt it to work towards our needs.

As technologists, we hold the keys to the magic, but the utopian demand I’d make is for everyone to hold the keys to the magic. Rather than giving cake to the masses, we must give them the recipe. I demand a future where the magic is ours, the people’s rather than just an elite class of wizards and faceless entities. The software we interact with every day should not only allow, but encourage us us to make it our own: to create our thoughts, art, and experiments rather than merely consume SEO-juiced content; to express our full selves rather than settling for uniform cookie-cutter molds; to play outside the box and in between the lines and beyond the edges of normality rather than being constrained within the rules of the status quo. There has been prior projects and experiments exploring a utopian-like vision in this space, but we need more dedicated focus to shift the power balance in technology back to end-users and in a form that is accessible to all.

In the face of many movements that are all bleak or all fluff, I haven’t been this excited about a movement in a while. I believe this rising movement of action-based optimism that reboot is pushing forward is critical to solving the greatest problems of our generation. “Take back the future” is a charge that’s critical yet hopeful. It doesn’t shy away from amplifying problems, but it also points towards a path to change for the better. We won’t find utopia sitting idly and remaining complacent to technological violations of our dignity, let alone being complicit. We have to seize the faint thread leading to the future we want to see with our own hands. We must pull with our communities and our full selves, to realize a better world for tomorrow. It’s easy to believe that societal impact is beyond our reach, but it’s more fun to trust that we can craft the world we want to live in, that the magic is made by us, so it can be changed to summon the future we wish for.