Friday, April 08, 2011

changing technologies + new enterprises = need for new rules

I had a chance last week to hear from two Egyptian political activists and social sector leaders. They were talking about the need to build a whole new civil society regulatory structure in their country. I think we're all going to be building new civil society laws in the next decade.

After years of thinking about it, I can now answer this question "Why does technology matter to philanthropy?" in one bumper sticker response (very tweetable!):

changing technologies + new enterprises = need for new rules

Unlike those who debate "Was it a Twitter revolution or not?" I think technologies are value neutral.* It's how we use them and how we set up institutions to benefit from and control them. Some will use them to expand democracy, others will use them to seize control. Some will use them to create social goods in new ways, others will seek to maintain the status quo.

I think the most influential result of disruptive technologies and new enterprises/impact investing will be the new rules they require us to consider and implement. This is why tax differences between Amazon and Target matter - the principle of tax privilege and changing rules is the same for new and old enterprises producing social goods.

That's my big thought for this Friday.

*When I understood better what Jaron Lanier is talking about regarding the deep coded decisions and values in many of our most consumed technologies, I'll probably change my mind on this.


Jon Stahl said...

To quickly convince yourself that technology is not value neutral, think about whether nuclear technology is value neutral.

Lucy Bernholz said...

The techonology or the people making it and the purposes for which it's made? That's the distinction that matters I think. Certainly the people and the purpose behind nuclear technologies are not value neutral, but the tools themselves...?

Lanier talks about how the coders of software embue it with their values - about choice, openness, etc. That's an important level for sure. But for the most part the tools can be used for good or evil and those are human application decisions....