Technology is Not Enough

Technology is Not Enough

Silicon Valley often considered the bastion of technological prowess and advancement. Young people from across the country, and even around the world, move to this tech hub in an effort to both change the world and make some money. But what happens when the money making aspect of their quest is overtaking their ability to change the world?

The common belief on how to create successful tech endeavors uses the words of Paul Graham. These words are as follows,

“The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.”

One thing missing from this equation, though, and an issue that affects politicians and other business types alike – what happens if the problem needing to be solved isn’t experienced by the people who have the opportunity to solve it.

Courtesy of ValleyWag, an article this week compares the poverty rates in the Bay Area (with a link to an interesting map of the same information nationally) as it relates to the latest income surge from the tech industry. Income disparity is up significantly thanks to the money being made by tech gurus, but poverty rates in these communities are becoming an increasing problem. For every app or service that solves the needs of the tech community (more private social networks, car sharing opportunities, mobile banking alternatives, etc.), more and more people are being left behind in the technological and income gaps being created.

Few can argue that the tools being created by many of these tech firms can have a real impact, from simplifying workflows, to opening information, to creating alternatives to travel, communication, commerce, and the like. But despite the potential for positive results, there is an obvious gap that isn’t being discussed. That gap being that so much of the technology community ignores the people, places, and concepts that nonprofits and charitable organizations work with on a daily basis.

When you look at the needs and problems of those in impoverished communities, those needing affordable housing, individuals trapped in the healthcare system, members discriminated against because of their sexual or gender identity, individuals trying to gain employment following incarceration, or those that struggle to pay for food for their families, their problems, and their needs, are drastically different than the average person creating solutions in the tech community.

The people who are attempting to solve these problems are nonprofits, charitable organizations, and government agencies; properties that generally lack the resources and, at times, talent pools of these tech giants and start-ups. While you can’t ignore that money and wealth drive innovation, it is difficult to watch nonprofits struggle to solve real, actionable problems in the communities they work with, knowing that technology could be in a position to drive social change.

Real change happens when smart, talented, experienced, dedicated people team together to solve problems. Real change happens with collaboration, humility, and empathy. Real change happens when people take chances and build ideas that affect those around them. It’s not enough to make a product that solves a problem you are having if you are not having problems that are felt across the greater community. That’s not change. That’s not what our communities, and our nonprofit partners, need.

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