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Is Technology to Blame for the Escalation in Violence?

July 09,2016 06:08

And as I write this in the wake of the violence our country has experienced recently, I have seen many on social media who are questioning whether many of the same technologies that our clients use to try to solve problems are making those problems worse.

As the CEO of a civic-focused mobile publishing platform, I spend my days working with officials and organizations who are committed to addressing inequity, who want to better their community and who work tirelessly to remove barriers to make opportunities and services more accessible.
And as I write this in the wake of the violence our country has experienced recently, I have seen many on social media who are questioning  whether many of the same technologies that our clients use to try to solve problems are making those problems worse.
The widespread adoption of the internet and smart phones has resulted in multiple worldwide networks and platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, where citizens disconnected by geography are connected virtually. And through these platforms, each of us can become citizen journalists in the midst of unfolding events when we publish our own first-hand accounts, photos and videos through these virtual channels.
From the viral spread of the recent graphic Facebook Live video of a woman documenting the aftermath of a police shooting to the horrifying images and video of snipers gunning down and killing multiple police officers during what was a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, there is no doubt that technology has transformed us into virtual witnesses of history in the making.
I am reminded of the story shared by Andres Montoya-Hernandez at PDF Forum in 2015 about ordinary citizens in Mexico and South America who used social media to fill the gaps of information to help others avoid the violence of drug cartels. 
While these platforms have provided a means to document and witness violence and tragedy as it unfolds, it has also scaled the reach of voices who choose to use these channels to perpetuate and promote extremist positions, foment anger and hatred, and deepen lines of division.
It's easier than ever to immerse ourselves within virtual cocoons where the only ones allowed in are those who look like us, think like us, believe like us. We can share news stories, videos and sound bites that over-simplify and polarize without ever having to digest or even encounter differing points of view.
For myself, as a participant within the quickly growing civic tech and gov tech industries, my network is filled with individuals in my own community and across the globe who are focused on inclusion, diversity and using technology to create more opportunities for those who need it the most.
Advancements in technology, from smart city innovations like street lights equipped sounds sensors to detect gunshots to open data portals creating more transparancy and information, all provide new opportunities and methods of addressing today's social and civic issues.
My own city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been a leader in some of these solutions, such as the Racial Equity Here initiative, will use data and technology to improve racial equity and opportunities. Others are just plain good ideas that are being being adopted in other communities, like There's a Better Way, which takes pan handlers off of city streets by providing paid day labor opportunities through the city.
We each have to choice about whether we use today's technology to perpetuate bias and division or whether we use our voice and efforts for good. 

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