Finding Our Humanity in Civic Technology

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When new technology ‘disrupts’ our way of life, we have a choice. We can respond with fear, cynicism, and the heaviness of uncertainty. Or, we can respond with gratitude, creativity, and the lightness of opportunity.

Years ago, when I first learned about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), I was unsure about it. Would robots steal our jobs, outsmart their ‘masters,’ and become our enemies? Then I saw a video of Steve Wozniak, our keynote speaker at the Good Tech Summit, who changed my perspective. AI, he argued, will be an ally, a technology that mirrors human qualities. AI is not an “other” but rather an extension of our nature.

Phone2Action created the Good Tech Summit to show the virtue of innovation. We believe that digital technology can be a force for social good.

We seek to celebrate, understand, and apply civic technology.

Civic technology is a broad and fluid category of innovations defined by their purpose rather than their function. Any tool—be it virtual reality, AI, or text messaging—can be civic technology. They join the category when we use them to achieve human prosperity. Civic technologies spur awareness, advocacy, action, and even drive new legislation. At their pinnacle, civic technologies disrupt social orders.

At the Good Tech Summit, we gathered technologists, politicians, creatives, journalists, and advocacy leaders who exemplify the potential of civic technology. Our goal is to create a community that sees technology as an extension of our humanity, as a set of tools that enable us to be better neighbors, better citizens, and better stewards of planet Earth.

Sometimes we take our connectedness for granted. Sometimes we lament the torrent of stories we cannot read. And sometimes, feeling bombarded, we forget the potency of storytelling and its byproduct, empathy. My hope is that the Good Tech Summit reframed technology as an engine for empathy.

When you see virtual reality imagery from the battlefields of Syria, they are disturbing. But the emotions they foment are the raw materials of empathy. When a smart city’s data systems find patterns of sickness, poverty, and violence in one section of a city, it leads us to compassion, stirring our innate desire to do something about injustice. When Facebook delivers a story about the plight of civilians suffering in the Philippines city of Marawi, the social platform gifts us an opportunity for reflection and maybe action. When Patagonia takes you on a visual tour of the Bears Ears National Monument, the red rock spires, slick rock escarpments, and snowcapped buttes instill a sense of wonder and empathy for the land.

We live in what historians may one day call a golden age of advocacy. It’s an era in which “the march is the new brunch.” This energy, powerful but impermanent, is an invitation to weave civic technology, advocacy, and action into mainstream life. I’d like to live in a world where advocacy can be as much of a ritual as Monday Night Football.

The challenge for social good innovators is to harness this appetite for civic participation. At the Good Tech Summit, we learned how some of our most accomplished leaders are doing it right now.

I believe civic technology will overcome the gridlock of our political system. It can form advocate communities that produce their own leaders and heroes. Civic technology reminds Americans that they are not alone and powerless but rather connected and empowered.

The Good Tech Summit believes in the power of technology to effect change. It celebrated how social movements, powered by digital innovations, can affect legislation, governance, and culture. It connected leaders who live a life with purpose and help others do the same. Technology can never replace that human drive, but it can complement it.

Today is a day where we will share untold stories, powerful tactics, and inspiring camaraderie. Today, let’s create a more hopeful narrative of technology that aims to elevate empathy, social good, and the human spark.

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