My own journey: how to do tech for good when you don't trust your neighbour?


I would like to weave together into a 150-300 word article and case studies that can help each one of us

  1. Make sense of how to resolve the underlying tensions between acknowledging the socialecological costs of the tech industry…and findings ways to develop technological tools that help create conditions for a zero/negative carbon economy which offers accessible opportunities for everyone to build healthy, happy lives.

  2. Figure out how each one of us can put the skills, resources and relationships we in service of making this happen. Not in a theoretical, pie in the sky scenario - but based on the practical constraints of our everyday lives right now.

As @amelia puts it, this means we need to go beyond conversations in which we discuss the merits of various solutions or technologies. Rather it requires us to include more of our personal experience, motivations and examples in our stories, thoughts, ideas and project presentations and discussions. Our views on the topic are surely interesting, but knowing what brought each of us to start thinking about it and what shaped your ideas is what will enable us to not only connect but also to discuss and research on a deeper level!

What questions/dilemmas are you yourself struggling with right now? What do you think we should be asking one another and everyone we know, peer to peer, to help you firgure out a solution?

My own personal struggle is tied to how to live and work with others in a spirit of solidarity set against a backdrop of being an ethnic minority in Europe, a lifetime of moving around and the experience of how quickly things can fall apart due to shifts outside our direct control (read: war + health).

I had a beautiful and free childhood in communities of expatriates from all over the planet who moved due to professional opportunities. All of them with tertiary education. A lot of this was spent in the middle east, more specifically the Gulf region. So a mix of people with professions that were fairly well paid, or filthy wealthy because well - the gulf. The situation was stable, very safe and free for children - school then home then playing outdoors with lots of kids and pretty much no supervision. While my own family is culturally, ethnically and religiously mixed - Our social circle was largely defined by being part of a tight knit North Sudanese community.

The Sudanese are a communitarian people with strong ties to their country and regions of origin. My dad is from a region called Al Gezira. Farmers + Communitarian + Communist. Traditionally a thorn in the side of the political leadership in the capital. I hadn’t realised just how influential this strand of my heritage is until the recent, still ongoing, revolution in the country. It’s funny how these things can make you see where certain aspects of your person come from.

Then Iraq invaded Kuwait. My Dad was running a research Lab at IBM and was doing something brainy at the University. Staff were warned in advance that something was happening, but it still came as a complete surprise. After a dramatic turn of events involving parents driving through barricades, a student of my Dad’s offered their farmhouse as a refuge.

Fastforward through a jouney that took us through Iraq, jordan and Egypt.

We then moved to Stockholm, during what later came to be known as a decade of violent racism in Sweden. Because of the war in the Balkans an unexpectedly large number of people from former Yugoslavia sought refuge in Sweden, especially during the first years of the war. This happened at the same time as Sweden experienced worst recession in 60 years- It didn’t take long for things to turn ugly. Then as as we do now, we saw a hostile reaction to refugees and migrants. At it’s worst we saw people walking around with weapons using lazer- visors to terrorise and kill those who “look like immigrants”.

The Swedish labour market at the time was, and still, is deeply shaped by people’s social relationships. It is a small country that is notoriously difficult to really make your home in unless you have childhood friendships to rely on. But tech has always been a big place, especially when internet/digital was making it’s way into the ecnonomy. I jumped on that train fairly early and that was my “ticket in”.

There is a much longer story within which my own is situated- but you get the idea, this mix between tight tight solidarity, and an environment of extreme hostility. I am painfully aware of the importance of having financial resources to get yourself and your family out of dangerous situations. And of how quickly a seemingly hospitable social environment can turn against you and make clear that you don’t really belong/Can rely on protection.

Others say that your best bet of surviving a difficult situation, e.g impending climate catastrophe, is being embedded in a web of nurturing relationships.

But how much can you rely on this web in a multicultural setting where people do not have the same strong ties to an ancient culture and land?

And what does this mean for how you relate to the development and use of technologies?

How do you balance the need for profiting from a company and caring for the needs of others?

All of this somehow ties in to these discussions we are having. But I am at a loss for how to move forward wisely over the coming years.

So this is me. Any suggestions based on your own experiences?

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I am starting to feel that there is in a way its own culture emerging among those who do not have strong ties to an ancient culture or land, and that is the community you join when you keep moving around. In a way that is nice and helps you to quicker feel “at home” when you are in fact not by become part of this community of “not at homes” or keeping in touch with your old friends and contacts via many modern communication channels. And it is a chance to create a beautiful and welcoming culture at that and one that in my opinion can have even stronger ties, because we choose consciously with whom to stay in contact and when we need to search for new direct contacts in person where we end up. But it also means that we are creating a cultural layer that A: makes it harder for us to relate to the experiences of those who are not part of it and B: might never really live in the culture of the place where we happen to end life but rather mainly stay in this international culture of people moving.

You probably have a very strong web of very different and carefully chosen people you decided to stay in contact with from a large pool of people you met new in different places and situations and that might be a richness in itself and a web to rely on.

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I don’t quite get how common ties to an ancient culture and land are fundamentals for trust, or at least not more than trust in others whose paths you cross on a different territory - that might be new for them too, not just for you.

I understand deep wiring, but also that choosing a home and a tribe is a conscious choice - you can have one, two, or more places where are you invested in. You can also choose your people to be your home, your land. Especially when it comes to fighting for technology and social good in a global world, you can have more in common with people across the globe than with your neighbors, yes. So then why should the land be a denominator at all in this trust formula?

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There is a brilliant novel called seveneves in which groups have to select who amongst them is to survive a cataclysmic event and be transported to the future in a kind of ark. The way it is organised is for different peoples to select one of each gender which the people consider to carry the best of them. So as to ensure that these attributes and stories are carried into a new civilisation.

It came to mind yesterday during the Scifi Economics Lab. Both when Cory spoke of fully automated luxury communism and when Kirsten spoke of new narratives. I would argue that a not insignificant part of narrative building is tied to place. It’s easy to disregard the deep ties that people have to a place and the stories tied to it…

How these narratives can carry people through rough times due to a sense of being a community of fate. The rituals, again tied to place and people, which everyone of the place has internalised often have the role of weaving together communities. The older they are, the more thoroughly they are grounded in your person - because of childhood memories etc. A solid common ground.

It’s all good and well to talk of larger causes, or your choice of tribes. But how does that work when your people include family members in different parts of the world? How strong is the sense of common fate as a motivator for sticking together when conflicting loyalties and multiple stories arise?

When you are part of an ethnic group and community of fate, yes you have some feud going on with your neighbours but when militia come for you or attempt to displace you, it’s a common fight. Also because you have relatives in common etc.

How this is linked to doing tech for good? 24 hours a day requires focus.

What technosocial developments that it makes sense to put your energy fighting for will depend on whom you are fighting for. And what rights you can rely on - e.g how large is the probability that if you are arrested you will be kicked out of a country?

Do you focus on introducing and building capacity around use of certain technologies for the local good? Are you fighting nationally to get Microsoft out of your educational system. Or are you lobbying against things like mass surveillance at the transnational scale?

This what comes to mind. but I am happy to be proven wrong with some examples from different people’s experiences…

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I see all three of you having valid viewpoints. Tied to place and deep roots, or people and place of your own choosing, and a global community of nomads. All are going on simultaneously.

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I personally have been more a part of the two latter ones: I belong to a community I chose to be with, none of whom I really knew before. And I have been a nomadic community person. As for deep roots, being from California, nobody’s roots go that deep unless you are Native American, but I am more tied to my region than I would otherwise be because I have family here that needs my care.

This doesn’t quite get to the heart of what Nadia is saying though, because I do not have the kinds of experiences she describes. Which are fascinating…would love to hear more.

I strongly relate to your childhood – I’m also a mixed kid, of a Mancunian mum and Palestinian dad, both who left home under less than ideal circumstances (or in my dad’s case, born a refugee and never really had a home country). I grew up in a tight-knit community of other first gen/immigrant kids in the USA. And my dad also did research at IBM and a university :wink: Being in the USA after 9/11 created a similar kind of hostile environment for our Arab family.

The problem with this notion of ‘creating identity’ for yourself is that, as @nadia alludes to, you can’t always choose your tribe or territory, especially when those around you reject your attempts to belong.

I think the most interesting thing that I’ve found is the people I end up relating to most aren’t those that share one of my ethnic backgrounds, but other hyphenated people. Most of my friends are first-generation and/or mixed. And they understand an identity formed both through presence and absence – of ‘homeland’, of family ties, of belonging. So I get the ‘nomadic ties’ thing, but I think it has more teeth than just collecting people and places you like-- sometimes, you don’t have an entry ticket. Or you get in and find you only have partial access. And some identities you can’t just shed, unless you want to change your name and your skin.

Diasporic identity is always complicated – and in the Palestinian case, ‘communities of fate’ is an apt phrase. One of my favourite poets, Mahmoud Darwish, writes on it a lot. He wrote a poem about talking with Edward Said that speaks a lot to the questions we’re discussing here – it’s a conversation between the two of them about identity. Said thinks you can make your own identity out of two worlds (more free form) and Darwish sees deeper ties that bind and hold us, whether we like it or not (you can see this in his other poems). The important thing to note is that both of them articulate what @nadia is talking about in terms of an emplaced identity tied to justice and tied to conflict. Both Said and Darwish, in their other works, ask questions about how identity can inform what we fight for, and how displacement affects the things we care about and the way we imagine the communities that share our struggle. Palestinian diasporic identity sheds a lot of light on this issue, since a lot of other Arab communities have turned their back on the Palestinian struggle, or only support it in name. And diasporic Palestinians outside of the MENA have a different lived experience than those exiled in other MENA countries, or those in refugee camps, or those still living in Palestine under occupation. Where we are located changes the ways we figure and conceptualise justice and struggle; affects the energies we have to struggle; and shapes what kinds of futures are imaginable. It’s too long to paste the whole poem, but here are some excerpts:

New York / November / Fifth Avenue…
There, on the doorstep of an electric abyss,
high as the sky, I met Edward,
thirty years ago,
time was less wild then . . .
We both said:
If the past is only an experience,
make of the future a meaning and a vision.
Let us go,
Let us go into tomorrow trusting
the candor of imagination and the miracle of grass/


New York. Edward wakes up to
a lazy dawn. He plays
Mozart.
Runs round the university’s tennis
court.
Thinks of the journey of ideas across
borders,
and over barriers. He reads the New York Times.
firites out his furious comments. Curses an Orientalist
guiding the General to the weak point
inside the heart of an Oriental woman. He showers. Chooses
his elegant suit. Drinks
his white coffee. Shouts at the dawn:
Do not loiter.


On wind he walks, and in wind
he knows himself. There is no ceiling for the wind,
no home for the wind. Wind is the compass
of the stranger’s North.
He says: I am from there, I am from here,
but I am neither there nor here.
I have two names which meet and part . . .
I have two languages, but I have long forgotten
which is the language of my dreams.
I have an English language, for writing,
with yielding phrases,
and a language in which Heaven and
Jerusalem converse, with a silver cadence,
but it does not yield to my imagination.


What about identity? I asked.
He said: It’s self-defense . . .
Identity is the child of birth, but
at the end, it’s self-invention, and not
an inheritance of the past. I am multiple . . .
Within me an ever new exterior. And
I belong to the question of the victim. Were I not
from there, I would have trained my heart
to nurture there deer of metaphor . . .
So carry your homeland wherever you go, and be
a narcissist if need be/
The outside world is exile,
exile is the world inside.
And what are you between the two?


Myself, I do not know
so that I shall not lose it. I am what I am.
I am my other, a duality
gaining resonance in between speech and gesture.
Were I to write poetry I would have said:
I am two in one,
like the wings of a swallow,
content with bringing good omen
when spring is late.


He loves a country and he leaves.
[Is the impossible far off?]
He loves leaving to things unknown.
By traveling freely across cultures
those in search of the human essence
may find a space for all to sit . . .
Here a margin advances. Or a center
retreats. Where East is not strictly east,
and West is not strictly west,
where identity is open onto plurality,
not a fort or a trench/


He loves a country and he leaves:
I am what I am and shall be.
I shall choose my place by myself,
and choose my exile. My exile, the backdrop
to an epic scene. I defend
the poet’s need for memories and tomorrow,
I defend country and exile
in tree-clad birds,
and a moon, generous enough
to allow the writing of a love poem;
I defend an idea shattered by the frailty
of its partisans
and defend a country hijacked by myths/


—Will you be able to return to anything?
My ahead pulls what’s behind and hastens . . .
There is no time left in my watch for me to scribble lines
on the sand. I can, however, visit yesterday
as strangers do when they listen
on a sad evening to a Pastorale


—So, nostalgia can hit you?
Nostalgia for a higher, more distant tomorrow,
far more distant. My dream leads my steps.
And my vision places my dream
on my knees
like a pet cat. It’s the imaginary
real,
the child of will: We can
change the inevitability of the abyss.


—And nostalgia for yesterday?
A sentiment not fit for an intellectual, unless
it is used to spell out the stranger’s fervor
for that which negates him.
My nostalgia is a struggle
over a present which has tomorrow
by the balls.


—Did you not sneak into yesterday when
you went to that house, your house
in Talbiya, in Jerusalem?
I prepared myself to sleep
in my mother’s bed, like a child
who’s scared of his father. I tried
to recall my birth, and
to watch the Milky Way from the roof of my old
house. I tried to stroke the skin
of absence and the smell of summer
in the garden’s jasmine. But the hyena that is truth
drove me away from a thief-like
nostalgia.
—Were you afraid? What frightened you?
I could not meet loss face
to face. I stood by the door like a beggar.
How could I ask permission from strangers sleeping
in my own bed . . . Ask them if I could visit myself
for five minutes? Should I bow in respect
to the residents of my childish dream? Would they ask:
Who is that prying foreign visitor? And how
could I talk about war and peace
among the victims and the victims’ victims,
without additions, without an interjection?
And would they tell me: There is no place for two dreams
in one bedroom?


It is neither me nor him
who asks; it is a reader asking:
What can poetry say in a time of catastrophe?


Blood
and blood,
blood
in your country,
in my name and in yours, in
the almond flower, in the banana skin,
in the baby’s milk, in light and shadow,
in the grain of wheat, in salt/


Adept snipers, hitting their target
with maximum proficiency.
Blood
and blood
and blood.
This land is smaller than the blood of its children
standing on the threshold of doomsday like
sacrificial offerings. Is this land truly
blessed, or is it baptised
in blood
and blood
and blood
which neither prayer, nor sand can dry.
There is not enough justice in the Sacred Book
to make martyrs rejoice in their freedom
to walk on cloud. Blood in daylight,
blood in darkness. Blood in speech.


He says: The poem could host
loss, a thread of light shining
at the heart of a guitar; or a Christ
on a horse pierced through with beautiful metaphors. For
the aesthetic is but the presence of the real
in form/
In a world without a sky, the earth
becomes an abyss. The poem,
a consolation, an attribute
of the wind, southern or northern.
Do not describe what the camera can see
of your wounds. And scream that you may hear yourself,
and scream that you may know you’re still alive,
and alive, and that life on this earth is
possible. Invent a hope for speech,
invent a direction, a mirage to extend hope.
And sing, for the aesthetic is freedom/


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@hugi, you might like this poem too.

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It’s beautiful. Many years ago i wanted to write a history textbook based on personal family histories of people I know and care about. Each one would tell their family history in all directions as far as they can reach through family stories archives, asking everyone they know what they know. Then piecing it together “chronologically” as an alternative textbook based on stories and subjective interpretationsstory what happened in our worlds.

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