It’s taken quite a while – like most people, it’s been a brutal 12 months – but I now know where I want to go next with Makers All. I’m about to start a new full-time gig that’s going to eat up all of my focus for the next few months, and after that I’ll only have time to keep Makers All simmering on my back burner. But for the first time in a very long time, I finally feel like I know I want to go next.
As part of my new direction, here’s my first cut at a new framework. It’s very, very rough, but it’s a start.
1) Reimagining The Future Of Tech And Work
In the next 20-30 years, robots and AI, augmented and virtual reality, digital fabrication, and other forms of emerging tech will radically transform our economy, creating a staggering amount of wealth.
Big Tech says they’ll empower people by democratizing this new tech. But that’s what they said about the last wave of tech – personal computers, the Internet, smart phones, and social media. While folks from Harlem to Harlan County did become skilled users of this tech, creating an explosion of creativity in the form of websites, TikToks, etc., few benefited from the wealth it generated. If anything, this previous wave of tech was part of an economy where wages for most workers stagnated and many communities were left behind.
How do we prevent the tech world from failing so many communities during the next wave of tech as it did in the last one? By ensuring that this time all our communities help shape how emerging tech is made and used.
To do so, we’ll need to focus our efforts on three areas:
- Tech Jobs: help communities reshape emerging tech so black, white, and brown people in every community have a real shot at getting good paying jobs in tech and/or creating co-ops & small businesses.
- Non-Tech Jobs: Big Tech says AI/robots won’t be a job killer, it’ll allow people to focus more of their job on the creative work that computers can’t do. Let’s cash in this promise by helping everyone from nurses to carpenters shape the direction of emerging tech, creating more room for creativity and meaning in their jobs – and in doing so benefit from the wealth they help create.
- Low-Wage Jobs That Sustain the Economy: as #1 and #2 build a more prosperous economy, reinvest some of this new wealth back in care work jobs and other jobs that pay poorly today but that make everyone’s work possible.
2) How To Do It
A) Reshape the Tools
Smooth the Learning Curve: Create a new model for democratizing tech expertise that makes it easier to move from beginner to intermediate to master and from tool user to tool maker.
B) Reshape The Opportunities
NOTE: just a very quick first sketch; needs rewrite
- Reshape Jobs so there are more jobs along the learning curve – e.g., blue-collar coders
- Reshape Learning. What can we learn from other examples now and in the past about how to build an ecosystem of learning tech skills that’s more inclusive and effective? For example: community colleges vs boot camps vs agricultural Extension Services and Citizenship Schools, experimenting with apprenticeships, treating everyone the way middle-class white guys are often treated (e.g., more flexible job descriptions, assume new hires can pick up some skills on the job)
- For Tech Jobs: Reshape Seeking / Hiring for Jobs
- More accessible on ramps – e.g., unions, churches, etc. in urban and rural communities, Hiring Halls 2.0
- Improving the UX of hiring for employees and managers – e.g., making it easy for overwhelmed managers to just plug into more inclusive approaches so these approaches are more likely to spread
3) How to Get There: Bending the Arc of the Next 20-30 Years
Although this approach is doable, it’s extremely ambitious – and it’s not something we can pull off overnight. And in the meantime, there are so many problems that need our attention right now.
How can we help black, white, and brown families in their struggles to make a living today while also taking advantage of this once in a century opportunity to shape the direction of emerging tech and the economy – especially in the next few years, when the direction of new tech is much more malleable?
A) Make Major Progress Now: Support the Green New Deal and Organizing Low-Wage Jobs
Although it’s certainly worth trying to make tech jobs more accessible today, it’s hard to see how we can change emerging tech fast enough to create lots of good paying jobs very quickly on a scale that would make a real difference in communities from Harlem to Harlan County.
But we don’t need to. The best way for folks in tech to fundamentally transform jobs in communities right now is by supporting actions that can pay off much faster:
- Good green jobs created by a Green New Deal
- Campaigns to raise the minimum wage and campaigns by low-wage workers to organize
B) Create Experiments Today That Build Towards Tomorrow
I have a bunch of thoughts on what this might look like, but they’re still pretty vague. For now, here are a few snippets.
We need to experiment in a way that’s headed somewhere, that is headed toward scaling, towards adding up to something that really pays off.
Some Strategies for Experimentation
- Learn from the good parts of start up culture – e.g., MVPs
- Help geographic clusters of small community tech groups build grassroots power together and level up
- Support and learn from current struggles in other/related approaches to emerging tech – e.g., the Algorithmic Justice League’s strategy for building equitable and accountable AI, Data for Black Lives’s #NoMoreDataWeapons campaign, the Design Justice Network
- Look for ways to add more playful approaches to tech to make it less intimidating, to encourage learning & creative exploration
Traps to Look out for