Talking Tech, Social Issues, and Social Equity: TEDx Oakland Comes to Laney
by Michelle Snider, Editor-in-Chief/Photos by Michelle Snider
TEDx Oakland was hosted at Laney College on Sunday, Nov. 3 with a heavy focus on social issues, family values and the tech industry’s social influence. Some TEDx speakers reflected on different experiences they had with technology and how they learned to turn their lives around. Others discussed issues such as sexual consent, racial bias, and generational trauma.
Although New York Times best-selling author, chef, restaurateur, and executive producer of ABC’s “Family Food Fight” Ayesha Curry had planned to speak, she was not able to attend due to a family emergency. But this did not stop the show — hosts Kim Gonzalez and Chris Ategeka smoothly transitioned performers and speakers while MC Lisa Francoeur’s quick wit engaged the audience.
Mixed with a performance from the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Boychoir Academy and poetry read by Daniel B. Summerhill, speakers provided insightful perspectives and reinforced TedTalks signature “Ideas Worth Spreading” slogan.
The morning segments focused on how technology affects culture as well as the individual psyche. Most speakers centered their talk on culture, family, and creating a world that empowers each individual while also being self-conscious of how one’s actions can be reflected in one’s community.
Bay Area local Gabi Jubran said he was once working hard in the corporate sales world. Even though he was successful at his job, one day his body suddenly shut down. He described his experience and said his burn-out made him realize he was not taking care of himself. Instead, he realized that he was holding in his true identity in order to please others in hopes of conquering the competitive corporate world.
During his quest to discover his true identity, he recalled the moment he watched his niece use an iPad to watch YouTube and suddenly realized there are no content boundaries for children online. He said he watched how her innocent searches for information on YouTube turned to sponsored ads for toys and candy and how some of her favorite childhood characters could be twisted into adult content.
Inspired to create better content for his niece, Jubran said he wanted to become a new age Mr. Rogers. Jubran said he realized one thing before he could do anything else — Mr. Rogers promoted self-love, so he first had to learn how to love and take care of himself. Jubran made his well-being his job.
Jubran said he founded HAPPI (Helping Awesome Parents Parent Intentionally) in 2016. He later co-founded Digital Wellness Collective, a company collective of digital wellness professionals who collaborate to enhancing human relationships through the intentional use and ethical development of technology.
“We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of everything else in our lives,” Jubran said. “Kids and adults do better when they have clear boundaries and limited choices.”
Tenth-grade Stanford Online High School student and chapter founder of EduSTEM San Mateo Ilana Nguyen spoke about how social media can create more isolation than human connections for young people.
Nguyen’s friends exist online because she attends an online school. She said digital platforms help build movements and create many positive connections, but they have also opened up a world of cyber-bullying, child pornography, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
“These are major problems, and I actually encounter them in my everyday life. We need an antidote,” Nguyen said, comparing the cyber issues to poison. She said an antidote can be created on two levels — individually and as a global community.
Individually, Nguyen said we need to understand the quality of our connections. She used herself as an example, such as when she would only connect with people through text messages. She said it was because she was scared to meet them in person.
“I wasn’t sure if they would like the real me as much as my online persona,” Nguyen said. “If this is widespread, anxiety and loneliness are sure to follow.”
Nguyen said two out of five Americans say they feel their relationships are not meaningful, while one out of five feel lonely and socially isolated. She said in the Northern California area where she lives, the ten-year rate of suicide for high school students is four to five times higher than the national average.
“People are dying. My cohorts are dying,” Nguyen said. “We must make the quality of our connections a priority again in our lives online and offline. It is not about our highlight views or a perfect online persona — it is about human connection.”
Nguyen said although she goes to an online school, she is not lonely because the time she spends with her friends offline is time they spend truly present, not on their phones. She said every moment does not need to be documented for consumption online. The act of listening to each other builds a strong connection, she said, one that is built on trust.
“On a global level, as we journey into the future and make new technology by the hour, we must face the responsibility that we have as the innovators and the guardians of the future,” Nguyen said. “It is more important than ever that we listen to each other across perspectives.” She said it starts with diversity in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
Nguyen said an additional antidote should be creating awareness and listening to professionals across fields of different disciplines like sociology, psychology, law, anthropology, ethics, and philosophy. Nguyen said action can be taken through collaboration.
The “Dare to Dream” theme of TEDx Oakland theme was full of diverse perspectives on community, social equity, humanity and justice. Many other speakers were lined-up in the program, like Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union alongside César E. Chávez, and Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri, founder and Executive Director of Edja Foundation, which works with girls and women who have been abused or sexually assaulted.
Storyteller, activist, restorative justice practitioner and trainer Dev Cuny brought their parents on stage after telling the story of a traumatic experience in conversion therapy that changed their life. Cuny became more outspoken about being gay, eventually becoming a speaker and advisory member for the #BornPerfect Campaign, a campaign to end conversion therapy. Cuny proudly said their parents are now accepting of Cuny’s lifestyle.
Writer and producer of scholarly articles for Novel Approach, LCC Kathleen Antonia Tarr had a very simple message addressing the stereotypes, racial biases and life-long questions about being mixed-race American.
“Race is not biological, but it has real meaning,” she said.
Touching on many aspects of current social issues while maintaining an entertaining and positive outlook focused on solutions, TEDx Oakland at Laney College delivered diverse outlooks with innovators, artists, scientists, and activists that unearthed much-needed conversations.