Examining White Privilege using IoT

Think back to the first week of July 2016. Here in the US, we watched videos of two black men — Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — being killed at the hands of police. Then we learned that five officers had been killed as well. It was a week when no one could ignore the racial challenges that exist in our country. But when the headlines faded away, it was all too easy for me — -a white person living in a predominantly white community — to go back to “business as usual.”

I want to pay more attention to people’s (often painful) experiences of race in America. Since my job immerses me in the Silicon Valley tech scene, I am curious about how I can use technology to achieve that goal.

Despite multitudes of research linking diverse workplaces with innovation, Silicon Valley lacks racial diversity in important ways. Per reporting by PBS in March 2016: “Analysis of employees at the leading tech firms that report such figures reveals, on average, 71 percent are men, 29 percent are women, 60 percent identify as white, 23 percent Asian, 8 percent Latino, and 7 percent black.” Silicon Valley workplace environments will not become more appealing to non-white people unless we white people become more culturally competent. White techies need to be talking about white privilege (much less white fragility).

When observers of the technology aptly note that in the next decade everything will be programmable, I wonder: will we be able to program ways for white people to be more aware of our own privilege? Is there a #lifehack for this? Something I can opt into so that I am intentionally more aware of my own white privilege? Privilege to — among other things — look away from the headlines when they get too painful?

To try this out, I chose to create a recipe on If This Then That. IFTTT is a tool for automating your world by programming products and apps to achieve pre-determined means. You can program it so that if X happens, then Y gets triggered. Some simple, popular examples of #lifehacks using IFTTT are things like:

· If the UV index is high, then your phone will send you a reminder to put on sunscreen

· If you add a new contact to your iOS address book, then it will automatically add them to a Google spreadsheet, too

The question is: how can we white people use this kind of automation coupled with the IoT (Internet of Things) to examine white privilege? How can we use technology as a tool to fight bias? Here is a starter IFTTT recipe, which I hope will inspire your own:

To use this recipe go to https://ifttt.com/recipes/456364-examine-white-privilege-using-iot. If you create your own recipe to examine white privilege using IFTTT, please share the link with me.

First, I decided that the triggering condition should be when NPR publishes a story about race. (To give you a sense of the options, you can choose an NPR story about children’s health, sports, classical music etc).

Next, I thought about how I could bring this triggering condition into my awareness in real-time. I chose to connect it to my Nest home thermostat, a connected smart home device. When it’s 90 degrees all of the sudden, it’s harder to ignore the headlines (and we all know how many stories don’t even make it into the headlines).

Once you have both the If____ and Then____ parts set up, you officially have a recipe you can automate.

Obviously, turning up the heat in a house is a far cry from the daily injustices, indignities, and intolerable conditions that many people face every day. But it is just one example of the ways in which techies and Silicon Valley people can examine white privilege using IoT; to intentionally shake ourselves from our supremely comfortable lives.

It is not lost on me that this recipe may feel like a StuffWhitePeopleLike parody (NPR! The Nest! IoT!), but that approach is intentional. If white people are going to have a conversation with other white people, we need to, you know…go to where the white people are.

In the 4 days since our household has been trying out this simple #lifehack, the recipe has run 6 times, the most recent of which was just 5 hours ago. Let me tell you, this has caused me to pay attention.

The next time NPR publishes a story on race, many white Silicon Valley techies will have the privilege to ignore it. Are you willing to turn up the heat? To start a conversation within your own household? To design technology products that will fight bias?

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To use this recipe go to https://ifttt.com/recipes/456364-examine-white-privilege-using-iot. If you create your own recipe to examine white privilege using IFTTT, please share your recipe with me.