Seeing Something Different About Technology
Georgia Bullen in her own words | A Network50 Spotlight
I remember the day that our first desktop computer arrived on our doorstep. I must’ve been about 7 years old. The box was almost as tall as I was, and I couldn’t move it out of our front hall. I was so interested in what was in the box, I opened it and started unpacking the computer in the hallway, putting it together by following the color coding on the cables and the back of the tower. By the time my parents realized what I was doing, it was all they could do to say “Follow the steps in the instruction manual!!” but it was too late. The designer of that Gateway computer that I assembled in my front hall had color coded the wiring to the computer, making it really easy to understand what to do, without even needing to know what all of the cables were.
I’ve always been able to see something different about technology than my peers. Technology tends to be something people are afraid to break, afraid to use incorrectly or just so taken in by it they forget it was made by humans. I have always been drawn to helping others solve problems, and to examples of good usability and design, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time.
Everyday, I approach my work with the idea that my purpose centers around making technology and data more accessible and equitable. I’ve consistently applied this core belief to my work, whether through the design of software interfaces, data visualizations, systems, or project structures. Technology shouldn’t be something that people need special skills to master or control, design should give everyone equitable access and power over the technology.
Currently, my team and I at New America’s Open Technology Institute run a system that allows anyone to test their internet connection, contribute that data openly, and explore data about how the internet in their community is doing. We do this in partnership with researchers, companies, governments, and civil society organizations, all of whom want to understand how healthy the internet is, and how that impacts society, free expression and access. Day to day this could look like setting up new servers somewhere in the world, supporting software developers who want to use data about the quality of experience on the internet in their application, or talking to a city about how to use data to monitor internet service providers in their community.
The challenge everyday is to remember to focus on the human using the technology. They have a goal — maybe it’s to get online and share a photo or read an article, or learn a new skill, and they need quality internet access to be able to do that. They need tools to help them understand how their internet is working, and to advocate for themselves when it isn’t.
As people who work in the open internet, we are inherently more informed than the average person online, and it’s our responsibility to help in translating — making the technology that powers the internet more accessible and equitable, through design, licensing, technology, infrastructure, policy and innovation.
Georgia Bullen is a civic innovator and open technology advocate. She currently works as the Director of Tech Projects at New America’s Open Technology Institute. She has been active in the internet health movement as a MozFest volunteer, a mentor with the Open Web Fellowship program, and a collaborator in the fight to protect Net Neutrality worldwide. She is a member of our first cohort of “Network50.”