“I’m not a politics guy, I’m a technology geek”
I hear this line, or some version of it, frequently. The tech sector is a growing part of our GDP and, increasingly, we turn our heads to technology to tackle urban, social, or economic problems. What does this mean? It means tech geeks (and companies) must be political. The good news is 2015 was a year of progress!
Take the taxi app alternatives, Lyft and Uber, as an example. Both companies set out to rethink urban transportation by offering consumers an affordable alternative to expensive cabs. They have been incredibly successful in scaling their product because they crowdsource it to ordinary people who can turn their unused cars into essentially a cab whenever they want.
These apps make it easy for people to order a driving service at any time in most urban hubs. In Austin, ride sharing apps may even be linked to reduced drunk driving incidents. In San Francisco, where I live, you can navigate your way to the other end of the city if you take a “line” or “pool” for around $5 using these apps, making the app an alternative to not only taxis but public transportation.
My point is not to advocate for ride-sharing apps, my point is that technology is also offering up solutions to challenges in ways that government has not. In this instance, these apps are disrupting urban transportation in a pretty significant way.
And yet despite the massive impact tech companies have on our day-to-day, and despite the social mission they say they are driven by, there is a sense of apathy toward politics and the role of government by many people who work in tech. A sense that sharing political views or “getting political” in the workplace is inappropriate.
Technology has and will continue to charter areas that make a social or economic impact on communities. It has already drastically changed the way we live our lives — that’s powerful — and should come with the responsibility to take positions on important issues facing our world, many that only government can address.
Tech companies and workers shouldn’t be indifferent to lawmaking or government, in fact, they should be more political — taking positions on issues that are outside of their wheelhouse, but important to our community and our country. All these “mission-driven” companies that are popping up should also embrace a broader mission of social good and use their place in the economy as leverage to influence the way our government conducts business.
But, 2015 was a year of progress across a host of issues:
In March, Marc Benioff, the head of Salesforce, announced that the company would cancel all events in Indiana following a move by the governor that would’ve made it legal to cite religious freedom in a defense if sued by someone in the LGBT community. Benioff even threatened “a slow rolling of economic sanctions” if the law wasn’t overturned. It was a bold and powerful move that stands up for a community being discriminated against.
Following the Supreme Court decision which guaranteed the constitutional right of marriage equality, many tech companies changed their profile pictures to rainbow-designed logos celebrating the landmark decision.
In light of recent terrorist attacks, Sundar Pichai, Google’s newly minted CEO,chimed in on Medium to state in no unclear terms that he opposes the sentiments and proposals by some to screen Muslims coming to America. He affirmed that we are a nation of immigrants and that we can’t let fear change our values. That was Sundar’s very first Medium post — and it was a wildly viral one.
My challenge for tech companies who are driven by “social missions” and are working toward making our world better is to think bigger — not with their products or services — but with their vision of improving our society.
2015 was a good year. 2016 will be better.