Contributed by: Show Editorial Team
Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Julia Terpak, Ashley Lin, Leora Soibelman, Abigail Burbridge, Chabu Kapumba, and special guest Mohit Mehta discuss tech and democracy on this week’s episode of The Trek
- Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on the role technology plays in democracy
- Prominent Gen Z figures discuss the evolution of technology and how it has impacted modern-day politics
- Future leaders of America discuss the growing concerns of big tech and the riff it has created in American politics
Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).
Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Julia Terpak, Founder of Gen Z Connect, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, Leora Soibelman, Video Producer at Civics Unplugged, Abigail Burbridge, Builder at Civics Unplugged, Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged and special guest Mohit Mehta, Steering Committee Member at Civics Unplugged
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:08
Hello everyone. And welcome to the trek. The trek is a new Civics Unplugged series where community members participate in meaningful discussions on topics that are too often neglected when thinking about building the future. Through prompting questions and provocations we’ve entered together into complex, but important conversations related to building the future and democracy. We understand that this work requires ongoing dialogue, but it’s a journey worth trekking through. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from birders, Oklahoma. And I am joined by some amazing people who will all introduce themselves when we start our word association. So today we’re talking about tech and democracy and everyone can say one to three words that they associate with that topic. And after that, just introduce yourself.
Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:00:55
Okay, cool. Hey everyone. My name is Ashley I am a high school senior in Vancouver, Washington. My three words are ethics, literacy and inclusion. So I feel like tech is inherently not neutral and it is up to humans to decide how they want to use it. Literacy, because you need to be able to have a basic understanding of technology to apply it to shift systems and inclusion, because I feel like that’s where tech is really powerful is just its ability to reach a bunch of people and include people in decision making processes.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:48
Hi everyone. I’d be happy to go next. My name is Chabu. I’m 19 years old and a first year at the university of Toronto also based in Toronto. And when I think of tech and democracy, relevant as the first word that comes up to mind, I can’t stress enough how relevant tech is to building democracy or the current state of democracy. And it’s definitely a mental model that I had to develop recently. That wasn’t always something I believed. And then also I think that informative is important. Tech informs our democratic systems, but I don’t think our democratic systems informed tech and that’s a really unhealthy dynamic. So yeah, those are my two thoughts on that.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:02:32
So thank you guys for having me. My name is Mohit. I’ve known Josh for about four years now, I worked on his New York mayoral campaign. So that’s how I got introduced to Civics Unplugged. A little bit about me. I’m originally from Mumbai, India. I grew up there moved to New York when I was 18 and I’ve been in New York for about nine years now. Loved politics, studied politics and economics in undergrad at NYU. Currently I have my own startup working in there depends humor sustainable fashion. I would do jewelry brands. And now also still on the side, I’ve been consulting on and off for the last three and a half, four years as well. I’m excited to have this conversation. My three words for this conversation is history. One of the words is history, I think it’s important to understand the cons the time in which we’re in, and also looking back at how tech has developed into what it is today and how it has affected us in the last decade, two decades and the on standing in the nineties. And it’s interesting to see how it’s developed getting to this point. Censorship. I think the time in which we are today has censorship is a super interesting and relevant topic. You know, talking about regimes like China, India and other democracies. And also now what’s going on in the US today. Super interesting to see how taking the democracy work with censorship, but without censorship and then invention what is, what what’s new and what can be done to actually take the relationship between tech and democracy forward.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:52
Yeah, I guess I can go ahead and do mine. So kind of cheating on these. I’m going to put Audrey Chang, Gary and disruption. The reason why I say Audrey Chang and Gary is before I was introduced to the world of CU, I had never really thought deeply about the connection between tech and democracy. I had a very linear view of what civics and government meant. I basically equated it with politics, which now I realize I was just very naive. And so I’m seeing the role that Gary has played beyond his transition between like, he’s obviously way more than technical support now. And then the way that Audrey Chang her work with integrating tech into Taiwan’s democracy has just been phenomenal. And then also the reason why I say disruption is I’m going to reference the rethink humanity report again, but what they say, and that is just so profound because it talks about how progressions in technology don’t just affect sectors information because of how they’re just so impactful that they they’ve change everything. And that’s ranging from democracy to like every single way that we lead our lives. And so technology has been a big disruption and all the sectors and has changed everything and every part of our lives.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:20
Three points, I’ll say feedback loops because techs very much amplify a lot of the character of the people, the society’s using the tech. And there’s a lot of pathologies that are kind of running rampant in our society that are being massively magnified through our tech right now. Oh, sorry. Hey, I’m Gary. I’m one of the co-founders of CU, Mohit’s awesome. So glad that he’s hanging out with us tonight. Yeah. Mohammed has been helping the CU ever since the beginning. I’m calling from New York city and Mohit, even though he’s at the CU office right now lives right next to me. It’s a fun little fact.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:24
I can go. Hi, I’m Leora. I was a founding fellow. I think words that came to mind were enormous potential because on one hand there’s enormous potential for good when combining tech and democracy and enormous potential for bad. So just a lot of things that could be an outcome of that.
Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:15
The word I thought I was improvement. I feel like we’ve improved a lot in this area and also there’s room for more improvement.
Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:08:57
I think I would say like catch up, and I’d say that cause I think the day-to-day operations of our government are like 10 years behind Don tech or something like that. So it was kind of just a little unsettling that tech is becoming more so every day, the forefront of people’s lives and everyone who is governing us is years behind. I don’t like that. So yeah.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:09:28
Thank you all for sharing. So now we can move on to the actual discussion, which is where anyone can pose a question or provocation, and then we get to talk about it.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:09:43
I can start off. I think a good first question would be what is the connection between tech and democracy?
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:11
I can go. So I guess, for me, it’s interesting to see, I would love to know your guys’ opinion on it in terms of, where we’re at with tech and democracy. I think looking back, if we look at the baseline of tech, really getting into forming democracy and effecting it in a very significant way, I would say in the United States, it started out with the Obama campaign. And I think that that was sort of the starting point of, and I think that’s why I chose history as my first word, because it’s always interesting to look at where the first effect of technology came into place in terms of those of politics as we know it. But it’s interesting that I bring it up in the context of politics based on what Madison said about the fact that conflating democracy and politics is an interesting thing that always happens. I think looking a little bit further back, it’s also interesting to see the baseline of tech in terms of even just things like email or statistics or calculations and statistical modeling for looking at different outcomes and things like that. Looking beyond just the internet and social media as tech in terms of how it’s had an impact on democracy. And then if you zoom further back and sort of look at the larger view, I think one of the most interesting things is looking at, if you even look at something like the printing press all the way back as tech and that being like the first point of starting the spread democracy and the ability to spread knowledge through democracy right through technology. And so I think, contextualizing it in history is always interesting in terms of how we can think about the relationship between the two.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: (00:12:06
That’s really interesting. I hardly ever think of things going all the way back to the printing press as tech, but it totally is. I guess just with how I’ve been, I’m only 18 years old and I’ve only ever kind of known tech to be referring to something electronic, but that is not definitely its original purpose. So that is a really interesting connection that I just would not have thought about. I think for me, the first thing I think of is just electronic voting, which is actually a really fascinating thing. If you look into all the different types of electronic voting across States and how they actually have to design in a very particular way as to not confuse people with ballot questions and things on the ballot there’s actually a lot of interesting pitfalls to that that I read a little bit about before. So that’s the first thing that came to my mind.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:13:08
Yeah. I definitely agree with that as well. And I think that something that’s worth mentioning is like, what is democracy still like democracy is composed of the people. So I think that anything that largely affects people on the way that they live their lives also will help strongly inform democracy and how we participate with it. So it doesn’t just have to be tech has largely influenced and changed how we do everything. And I think it could be also applicable to other things like culture, but the songs that we listened to, the movies that we watch, anything that really fundamentally changes the way that people live their lives is going to inherently have a huge impact on our organizing systems like democracy.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:14:09
I think that it’s really interesting. How you brought up the example of the printing press being technology, because it is just maybe not the depth of technology that we’re familiar with, but it’s most definitely technology, which makes me want to reframe how I look at the word technology and it’s really just tools that are used. And the technology that informs democracy the most is definitely any tool that expands communication or understanding of the state of the democracy. So the printing press that informed newspapers and allowed them to be able to communicate better across streams and the same way that social media has been able to do that. And I think the connection is just the fact that it’s almost a way to crowd source the perspective, or to see a lot of views of different populations and collectives kind of take surface and be seen if you don’t have firsthand experience in those spaces.
Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:15:11
Yeah. I definitely heard that, I guess when I think about democracy, I think about people able to have like people engaging in dialogue and having productive conversations about meaningful issues as one part of it. And another part of it being people have meaningful say in whatever decisions are being made without distortion from delete groups and everyone can have a voice. And so I definitely agree with that in the sense that I feel like tech can make information a lot more accessible. So people can have those meaningful discussions. And then totally I was talking about kind of with voting and I think other applications that allow people to have a voice in whatever decisions are being made. I guess like something I also think about is virtual testifying, because that’s something a couple of years ago I was just working with a lot of students on the East side of Washington state, which is not very represented in our state legislature just because no one is going to drive six hours to Olympia and testify on bills, especially when you’re a high school student. So that’s something my mind is coasting.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:16:47
Also thinking about the root of the word technology, which I’m pretty sure it was Greek. And it’s interesting because technique, which is the thing it comes from means can mean art or craft or really anything like that. And so we very often don’t think of technology in this terms of like, it’s an art, it’s a craft. But it is instead of just to make that connection of kind of like the artistry of democracy, as weird as that may sound.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:26
I think a lot of people, maybe this is just me, but especially before, as I mentioned, like art in tech is opposites. So it’s crazy to think that’s the root.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:54
Here’s a provocation, culture processes our technology.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:18:12
My initial thought in response to this kind of speaks to qualities that they share. So culture and processes are sometimes very hard to explicitly see in different spaces. Like it’s very hard to know the culture of a space or it’s very hard to pick the processes that they use. And it’s also very hard to witness when technology is being influential or to understand the extent of its implications. I don’t think until like 2016 and even this last election, we truly understood just how much rhetoric on social media has depicted literally different versions of reality for different Americans. So yeah, I think that they’re both extremely powerful, but we were yet to arrive to a true understanding of just how powerful they are, because they’re also kind of subtle in a way.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:19:13
That’s super interesting. The first thing that I thought about when you said that Gary is the pyramids of Giza again, going back to history because it’s like, how do you get here? There’s so many different theories on how we actually got to the pyramids of Giza in terms of the billing process, which is obviously using a form of primitive technology, albeit some form of technology, but it speaks to the culture and processes of the time, right? In terms of what the social dynamics of a Pharaoh with top tens of thousands of slaves actually, you know, logging massive tons of sandstone about. And so that was the first thing that I thought of in terms of how technology of the diamond represents the culture of the time. But in terms of the sort of opposite, I do think going back to what you were saying earlier, I think Gary was saying it, but basically if you look at today and you look at culture and processes and I think just looking at the culture in, and of itself, like technology, maybe representative of culture, but it’s in the echo chambers within, right. And so it’s not necessarily representative of cultural identity outside of your echo chamber in the sense that it’s representative of a whole it’s representative of parts of a whole in a lot of ways. And, and I think that’s because of the way I think somebody was talking about technology as a tool. And I think that’s super interesting actually. I don’t know if all of y’all have, sorry, I’m jumping a bit around, but if you’ve seen notions about page, about how it was created if you haven’t, you should check it out. But it talks about how an original desk was first converted into say you know, word and Excel and just notepads and use cases of different things. But nobody actually the imagined underlying use case of a desk in the way that notion does tries to do. Right. And so I think technology as a tool is interesting. If you try to represent cultural and processes by understanding the people it’s supposed to work for and the use case it’s supposed to work for. Right. And so and I think obviously the way the Bermans were, but it was atrocious and mad, but at the time, such an interesting . But it was the cultural and processes of the time to build something that was unimaginable at that time as well. So it’s an interesting dichotomy of this thing, the same for the Taj Mahal as well, which is only 400 years ago,
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:22:01
I think it gets interesting, how democratizing a lot of technology has been. And I remember a few years ago when AOC was in the news a lot for doing Instagram stories of all the behind the scenes you see at the Capitol building or in Congress that people had never seen before, but it can be bad on Twitter where it’s like, yes, you can communicate more directly with politicians and people representing you, but you can also have people spewing things that are just not true. As we’ve seen recently, and those companies can take a stand on whatever they want. So I think it’s just interesting how this doesn’t necessarily write the culture and process, but I think what Chabu was touching on before about, I forget what you said, but I know this made me think of it. So, it’s definitely interesting how that democratization can have positives and negatives.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:23:16
Yeah, I think before, I don’t want it to be like before technology, because now we’ve established technology even started as soon as the printing press, but I think say a hundred years ago it was easier to make a distinction because if we were talking, then I would say culture and processes are more things that you participate in. And then I’m going to still chop whose definition. I say, like technology is tools, but now I almost think that a lot of times now culture is acquainted to technology. So I think of memes and internet culture and all of that exists within technology and because of technology. And so I think now it’s even harder to make the distinction because so much of it relies on social media platforms and other forms of tech.
Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:23:46
Yeah. And I definitely also see technology as tools, but then aren’t processes also in tools, isn’t it something that you are taking to different communities your part of and experimenting with them and using that as a way to get to the result that you want. I think processes guide people towards an end goal. And so in that sense, it as a tool as well. I guess where my head goes is that I think about the adoption process, I mean adoption of technologies and then adoption of culture and processes. And I think about how it’s very much the same. I feel like things like conversion once, you get a certain number of people doing it, everybody is using it. Like whether that is a technology or a process. And I feel like when that happens, there needs to, I mean, kind of going back to that rethink humanity report, there needs to be new way and new organizing systems designed to take into account what technologies and what processes people are using.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:25:28
I thought that just crossed my mind is when technology’s built, the people who build it exist within certain cultures and exist within certain exists using certain processes. And like what, Mohit already talked about like the Egyptian pyramids and just what was happening to have that built. And I think of Facebook and the fact that it was la really stupid dating app by some problematic college kid. And that is almost important to it makes me wonder if it’s the culture that basic was built on was very much to compare people and very much to, you know, almost like a tool to express anger cause that’s kind of where the Genesis story came from. And so I wonder if where the technology is built and the culture that it’s entrenched it has implications for it’s learn long-term use no matter how much the culture and processes evolve.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:26:45
Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s interesting that you brought that up. That was one of the things I think when Madison was talking about, I guess this whole concept of technology as a tool that job you mentioned, I think that’s the baseline of technology. I think actually what you said is true as well, right? Processes are also a form of it’s a tool, right? And it always comes down to what’s the end goal with which you’re developing something. And whether it’s a form of technology process, governance structures, civics, it’s interesting. And so, this whole concept of blockchain and cryptocurrencies was always designed to be a tool for reaching something, right. If you’re going to end goal of in the case of cryptocurrency is democratizing access to financing to being able to transact, being able to actually do something with it. The baseline for Bitcoin was the existence of actually figuring out how to get rid of the two body problem. Right? So when you have a banking system, the baseline is that you need a middleman to transact, right? And you need someone as a trusted third party who can make sure that the person has the money to be able to pay it. How do you get rid of that middleman problem is like the baseline with which cryptocurrency was invented. From cryptocurrency, came blockchain technology. I think we’re in an interesting place where in that space it’s such a toxic environment that creates that middleman in a way that, because the people who create that technology inherently become the middle man in a way that’s not the necessary outcome of what the technology was intended to do in the first place. And so it goes back to what I think we’ve been talking about in terms of, okay, is technology so heavily controlled by the people and time and place and culture that creates it in a way that shouldn’t and doesn’t translate well outside of that? Or is it something that can be used in an extrapolated and iterated on which has happened time and time again. And so I think again, going back to if you and I think history is always the best place to look around, look fine. So in terms of how stuff develops, I think almost always when a technology’s put into use first, it has the adoption process, then it has the usually massively negative influences across the board. Regardless of whether going back to the printing press example.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:29:38
Like the Roman Catholic church used it censorship for the 50 to 60 years, it used it for a way that to suppress knowledge, to try to hinder it and then eventually translated into actual good use cases. So I think, if we look at the internet in context of history, it’s so young, it’s still young and cryptocurrency and blockchain is even younger. And so I think use cases where I think conversely the flip side of it is also that because of the nature of technology and in terms of the internet or cryptocurrency or blockchain, we’re in this process of exponential growth and exponential history, like everything’s happening at an exponential rate. It’s not happening twice as fast or 10 times as fast it’s happening at least to end fast. And so every time that happens, obviously the good use cases also come faster, but then the negative use cases also become compounded. So I think it’s super interesting to look at it as a tool. And I think that’s the way we should look at technology and treat it as such, I think treating it beyond that is where we start to fall into a fall into a trap. And I think one thing Madison that you mentioned, the last thing I’d say is the thing that you said, in terms of technology made the invention of things like the memes possible, that’s an interesting thing that stuck with me because if you look at the etymology of memes, again, it comes from Greek going back to what Leora was saying, but it just means mimicking something and then get that something that gets mimicked often enough becomes part of culture. And then then Richard Dawkins actually popularized the garden world of memes, which was before actual widespread use of internet. So it’s interesting how we conflate things in the present because that’s the reality of the present. And so it’s interesting when we start to think about memes as something that the internet invent the internet or technology made possible, but at the end of the day, I think it’s the tool that made memes. Like it actually allowed it to become a meme. And so I think it’s really interesting to look at the use cases in history.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:00
Wow. That was so good. And then that makes me want to ask you a follow up question. It makes me wonder, this is kind of an open-ended, but you talked about how technologies typically, like in the first part that when they’re prevalent or around, they tend to be negative and then be turned for positive. So my question is twofold. Do you think, the internet right now is one of those, net negatives and if so, what do you think could spark the turning point to make it used for positive?
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:36
Yeah, I mean, I think it had initial budget of use cases that came out in a significant way. I think if you go back to the first sort of internet bubble the first real crash in the late nineties, early two thousands, you know, we saw a crazy boom and bust cycle. We saw it again in 2008, 2009. And then I think there’s so many different use cases for the internet and technology right now. That’s exponentially hating it. I think it’s easier right now to start to break it up. I think breaking up the use case of each of those technologies. Like that’s why I think it’s interesting that brought up blockchain and cryptocurrency because it embodies a culture and an ethos that’s separate from the internet. And I think the internet has now devolved into, or evolved into a lot of different use cases, right? Like AI being one of them or blockchain being one of them, I think just data and data science being one of them I think robotics and actually bio mimicry and bio robotics being one of them, starting to think about those different use cases as now, the existence of technology, like today’s technology is more interesting. And then I think internet is sort of the layer that sits above or below all of those things in terms of being able to make learning or transferring some knowledge possible in a faster way. So I think the internet has reached a point of net positive. I think the others still have a long way to go. Like I think, especially if you look at the last year alone, with the pandemic, I don’t think half of what we do today would have been possible if the internet hadn’t existed. Like in terms of where we are at, if a pandemic happened, we wouldn’t have been in a place where so many people would have been able to keep jobs from a positive perspective. I think the internet did its job in terms of that side of things. But I think the technology blocks built on top of it have a long way to go in terms of where we’re at. This is how I look at it.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:34:45
It’s interesting. You’re making me think of how you know, Taiwan has had double digit deaths, like low doubled teens or something like that from COVID this past year. And they have access to the same technologies that we do or extensively they do. But what’s the differentiator? Well probably a lot of things, but one of them is their civic culture. There’s a lot of more trust between the government and the people and the people are more homogenous and there’s a lot of factors that are different than America, smaller country, et cetera. But it makes me think of how much, if there’s this much potential and where we are today, how much does culture play into closing that gap? And my guess is a lot.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:35:48
Yeah. I think that’s a really cool example because when you look at Taiwan and the US the internet has actually created even more distrust in the government but Taiwan, it’s bridged a community of trust and has allowed them to really use the government to its full extent and helping them. And that’s interesting. Because when you think about all these new developments developing to a point of having net positives, I think we’re so focused on developing the technology and furthering it and not developing the communities that interact and engage with the technology so that they can use it to its fullest extent.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:36:47
Yeah. I definitely do think stuff like that is such a baseline for that stuff. It has made it more abandoned, more barren than ever, I think in terms of where we’re at, like I’m from India. My mom just got, COVID last month and she’s fully fine now. But the immediate response of the people there is my mom locked herself in a room in the house. The government sent folks over to the house to put a stick on the door. So no one in the community, and they informed the building that she has COVID the building then contacted the government. The government sent folks over to make sure that no one in the house leaves the house for 14 days without getting tested. And I think it’s just baseline the idea is that the understand the questioning of whether it’s a good thing to do that for society is not even existing. Whereas where we are today in the US and we’re hitting record numbers every day. And just the culture of all that has been perpetuated by the culture that identify that identifies as an American. And what does it mean to be that in today’s day and age, in terms of what does it even mean to be an American? If that’s the baseline, if you’re talking about COVID as a thing, that’s questionable thing to do, right? Like that I can walk around. And my freedom is at stake. And I think Asian countries, countries led by women in so many cases have proven that culture from a top-down and bottom-up use case makes such a big difference in terms of how technology is able to facilitate the outcomes. Like technology can only go that far if culture doesn’t allow it to be facilitated that way.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:38:38
This is really interesting because in so many ways, I’m a product of the internet. Obviously I’m my own person, but I’ve grown up so much with the internet and to look at that from a critical lens when it’s something that’s so entrenched in my life is a really fascinating thing to do. I read it a whole book just about the linguistics of the internet and how it’s kind of revolutionized informal language now that people can be informal with each other all the time. So I mean, it’s kind of a hard, like self-look and be like, yeah, I love the internet, but isn’t really good for the rest of the world. And this thing of time is really interesting because obviously in that case, it was so useful, but the rest of the world hasn’t been as fast.
Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:39:48
Okay. So I’m still trying to learn about this, but I guess what I think about is I just feel like there’s room for the internet as a whole to be upgraded. Right. So I was reading something that said right now we are in like web 2.0, which means that it’s essentially read-write internet where people can read things on our internet and you can write things to the internet. And it basically stores, information as a database, but then the next step of the internet is really how do you decentralize the internet? So we’re entering a time of more and more data and to like with Taiwan and Covid it’s like, well, how do you track people and make sure that if people got in contact with someone, they’re told that they met someone who had COVID and how do all that while making sure you’re storing all this data in a way that respects people’s privacy and that it’s stored safely. And that it’s validated across different sources. And so, I guess, I just also think about a need for internet to be upgraded, could be able to deal with all of these new technologies and use them in effective ways. Yeah. And I think that’s something that Taiwan has started to figure out how to do.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:40:53
Cool. Now we can go ahead and move on to the reflection application section. I’m going to send the notes in the zoom chat so that you all can look over them. And when you have a reflection, feel free to shout it out. So you can just look over the notes. You can kind of solidify your key takeaways that you got from this conversation, things that surprised you, or that maybe you want to think more about going into the future or anything like that.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:42:50
So for me, the meme thing really stuck with me. I don’t know why, but it was it was an interesting, it encapsulated a lot of what we were talking about. So the way Richard Dawkins defined meme was as a unit of cultural transmission in terms of the smallest possible unit of cultural transmission. And so I think, going back to Gary’s question or I don’t know what it’s called provocation about culture effecting technology. I think the baseline is that culture really determines how technology can be used. I think it is a trend that ties a lot of our conversation together, whether it’s Taiwan dealing better with the same duels, or because everyone interior, at least obviously it’s not equal or not absolute, but everyone has access to the same tools at the governmental level, right? Like especially if you compare the United States to Taiwan and the outcomes are so different. And so that stems from culture and that stems from how culture is determined due to direct democracy. And I think that’s the baseline at the end of the day technology is tool. I think Ashley what you said about what does internet 3.0, look like? What does the next iteration of the tool look like? I agree with that. But when I think got to choose what determines where that ends up back, right. And decentralization is this buzz word that I’ve been around multiple times in the blockchain space And the cryptocurrencies face, but it never materializes the way it’s supposed to write white papers are one thing, but actual use case of deploying that is another thing. And so I think at the end of the day, culture really determines how technology can be used. I think that that’s where it comes back to.
Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:44:52
Yeah. I definitely agree with that. I was actually reading this feminist critique of blockchain and I didn’t realize just how inequitable, the space was in a sense that what I think it’s like 96% of Bitcoin is owned by 4% of minors or something. And that just kind of blew my mind. I’m like, that’s essentially every other currency that exists out there, power centralizes and blockchain is not going to be decentralized if it’s not built in that way. And so I definitely agree there. I think throughout the trek, what became really clear to me, it was that culture and processes really shape how people use tech and it’s really important to start there.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:46:03
I think my main takeaway is from the trek is just that I really need to rethink what I consider to be technology. And I think reframing that is going to help me think about what should happen with it in the future, because the first thing the printing press common was so eye-opening, to me and thinking about culture and processes as tech also just totally threw me for a loop. So I think just reframing how we think about technology in general is what I’m thinking about.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:46:36
Yeah. It’s similar to Leora, I think that this conversation has really changed, how I define and see technology, especially going forward. It’s really helpful to have it put into context with history and also to think about how new things like the internet are, because like Leora mentioned, when you’ve been immersed in it for your entire lifetime, you don’t really think about how short of a life span it has had. And so to think about how rapidly that has changed as we were talking about before this conversation just started, there’s things going on all the time, every single week, there’s huge events that are happening and in large part because of what the internet has afforded. And so it’s insane to think about long-term, what has happened in just this year and what will happen over the next decade and what technology will allow, especially as it expands and improves. So that can be scary to about, but it also kind of makes me, Gary, do you think it’d be awkward to pose kind of another question in this section you think that’d be cool? Okay. So it makes me wonder kind of to finish this off how can we optimize tech and democracy?
Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:47:54
I kind of want to add to that question too. It’s kind of the same thing. Also, probably something for Gary to answer, back to my point that I made in the very beginning on how our government’s day-to-day operations being so behind on tech and the talent is going to the Googles and the Facebooks. How do you think, the government can position it? So for top talent to want to go into the government right away.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:48:23
I can take an initial stab at this. So to everyone’s point and just to kind of underline Mohits, direct quote culture, determines how technology can be used. I was actually just talking to one of Josh and Mohit’s former colleagues who comes to the office sometimes Bob, about when is the right time to start building a technology for a community. And well, if you don’t know what the community needs and what the goals are you don’t know what the culture of that community is not set yet. And you don’t necessarily know what they want and yet you’re certainly not ready. And so how do we create technology that serves our democracy? I think it starts here. I really do. I really think it starts with organizations, communities like Civics Unplugged. And that also answers the second question. I don’t think it’s going to come from the government. There’s no trust in the government and right now and in order to get into high positions of power right now the 99% pathway is to kind of be a partisan crony. And I don’t think gen Z is inspired by that. So we’re a civic slash political org in our own ways. But it’s because of our independence from government that I think we have any credibility with any of you. So those are my thoughts.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:50:12
I think, as in the couple of things on that, I think what you said about understanding the needs and then doing the building. I think that’s super strong. I think what’s important to note, like, I think analogous to that, or right next to that is that also, you can never know the whole thing. Like there’s no omniscient knowledge in terms of knowing something about a culture or what a culture needs. So at the end of the day, I think the good thing about technology as a tool is also you can build and break and iterate and build and rake and iterate. Right. And I think that’s also important to take those leaps and to just jump out there and do the building, right? Like, you’ll never know for sure, a hundred percent of this is going to be the right thing. If this is going to be the end thing, there might be negative outcomes from it. But if you don’t yourself out there, if you don’t put the invention out there you don’t move forward. I think that’s important to understand. And then adding that to your definition of current government, which I don’t think is wrong in any way. But I do think it’s the pathway for your guys’ generation to make the change. I think having these kinds of conversations, I know, like if you look at history again, in terms of actual systemic change only happens you know, step-by-step bit by bit. And if it’s supposed to be peaceful, right. If it’s supposed to be in a way that’s taking the conversation forward, it doesn’t the only other option alternative is revolution or war, right? Those are the only times that, and then that almost always entails violence. So if you ever find yourself in that place, and the idea is conversations like these is the small steps to move towards actually change. And I think yes, government is broken and maybe more broken than it has been in the last 50, 60, 70 years. But I would say just always zoom out, right. And see where you are and see what you can learn from those mistakes, those steps that history has shown us. And then try to dig those small steps towards actually making change. And I think Civics Unplugged is a great place to start for sure.
Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:52:47
Yeah. I don’t think government has ever been a hotbed for innovation. And I say that knowing that my dad works at a place that’s federally funded, that develops technology coincidentally enough. But I think to a certain degree, I don’t know if the government can position itself in a way that top talents will want to join. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s not necessarily the government’s job. Like think outside organizations like Civics Unplugged can do that, kind of reminds that oftentimes my school has had a hard time finding good math and science teachers, because so many people who get those degrees, go off and work in the private sector instead of becoming teachers in those things. So it’s a tricky business basically.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:53:47
I think this is a great question. And I think that I touched on this a little bit earlier, but to optimize tech and democracy, I think that we need to spend less time investing in developing more tech, because that’s happening at warp speed and spend more time investing in developing the communities and people who engage with the tech. And I think that when you exist in a culture where self-development is so key and things that you have natural energy for, or excite you are the foundation of the conversation everyone’s going to want to do that. And so when I think about how the government can position itself for top talent, I again kind of agree with Leora, in the sense that, that’s not really the government’s role more, so how can the democracy movement position itself for top talent and the way to do that is to make it so that it’s almost like a process of self-expression it’s self-development, it’s very much aligned with what you’re passionate about for the same reason that everyone wants to become a YouTuber, because you just get to live your life and happen to be doing some contribute to society. I think that democracy reform could have that same exciting way where it feels natural to participate. And it feels informative of yourself to keep developing democracy as well as yourself, which again is totally in line with what we do here.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:18
I love that Chabu. It also makes me think that just changing it from government to democracy and it really shouldn’t just be top talents either. We should be trying to attract everyone to participate in democracy and to make their own kinds of contributions. And again, we’ve talked about this before, but I really liked the idea of changing Civic Engagement and how we perceive it right now. Max, do you have any reflections, any thoughts.
Max Polsky – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:50
I do. And sorry, I’m so late to all of this kind of what Madison had mentioned and what people have mentioned before in terms of businesses and yourselves and the use the fellowship put it I don’t really feel like it’s even that that tech needs to be this huge thing. I think it can just be a tool along the way to be a better American democracy, to be better. You know, in terms of whether it’s increasing civic engagement, civic education emphasis on participation. Like we have so many ways to reach out to people and organizations like some of it’s unplugged and when we all vote and even Ted talks have proven this, that it’s not very hard to make stuff accessible to people. I think we just need to use it and to put that effort into to making it available.
Abigail Burbridge – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:25
Just adding onto what other people have said, but I agree with what Mohit said about culture, determining how technology could be used in our democracy. And I feel like they’re just also interconnected. I don’t have time to time to unpack that, but yeah, they’re also interconnected.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:08
Yeah, well, they shape each other and that’s I think step one in helping the feedback loops go in the right direction or slightly more direction related to flourishing it starts with us recognizing systems thinkers is that they really afford each other’s evolution or devolution.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:40
I just want to add one last thing in terms of what you said Leora. And I think that notes that were just kind of bothering me, but government is not a hotbed for innovation. I think that’s interesting. I think my generation included your generation. I don’t know what the generational changes are or what the current cut off is anymore, but I think, you know, Goldman is an all support for innovation, but it’s the facilitator for civilization being hotbeds for innovation and it’s cool, right. Government is too, that is a hot bed for innovation. You guys have Benjamin Franklin as an astronaut on one of your this things, right. Going to the moon, whether it’s with the internet, whether it’s the global positioning system, GPS you know, vaccines, any of the stuff that we see what the motives are, what the outcomes are maybe negative again, right? Like, especially, I mean, you mentioned might be negative to begin with or use for defense, but it’s the place where it is the personal data of innovation, right. And it needs to be you to go into that, to actually get as many of those negative outcomes at the stop asphalt. And do it as many of those negative use cases and actually go to what’s the most and the best fosters possible.
Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 01:00:07
I think my reflection would be, I really liked the statement about process and culture being technology. I think again, because how many of us grow up when we think of technology, our thoughts go right to phones, computers, and more futuristic imagery, I’d say. But it’s important to break it down into how technology started and how it evolved. So I liked that.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:41
Anyone have any last thoughts to add before we wrap up? Josh, you have anything to add? I know you’ve been spectating for awhile.
Josh Thompson – CEO, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:49
Yeah. Thanks for calling me out like that. No, I mean, not necessarily to add, and you may have touched upon it, but that whole idea, that tech civics is intertwined. And I just want to remove it as truly a just mentioned, like we usually think about futuristic things and it’s really confusing to me right now when I turn on anything of Congress and we’re grilling Facebook or Twitter, or any of those new companies about their role in democracy. Cause they were never founded to be part of democracy, right? Like Facebook was founded literally to publicly shame who’s hot and who’s not, Twitter was founded to put up a hundred and whatever characters. So why are we grilling them about democracy and not grilling general motors who created a new version of car who doesn’t provide cars for free on days that we need to vote that’s a technological revolution. So I’m just confused of who we’re trying to hold accountable. And who were trying to say is intertwined in our democracy if they weren’t actually founded upon civic principles. So that’s just a lot of what’s top of mind for me
Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 01:01:59
To that point. I think Jack Dorsey put out a 10 tweet thread, like two or three hours ago. Like addressing basically that question, which I haven’t looked at all of them yet, but it’d be interesting to look up.
Josh Thompson – CEO, Civics Unplugged: 01:02:11
And it’s interesting that Jack Dorsey this morning expresses interest in Civics Unplugged. So is that convenient or is he actually moving in that direction?
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:02:28
Love what Josh said. And that speaking of tools like humans are the most flexible tools ever, and we don’t put blame ourselves for why our democracy sucks. Like we have the ability to do whatever we have the village to build new tools. We have the ability to convince more people to contribute constructively. So maybe instead of just spending all our time blaming Zuckerberg we can take it upon ourselves as the most flexible tools ever to do something about it.
Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:03:09
I think that’s a really cool point because you speak to the fact that I never really looked at it like that before Josh, but it’s almost a convenient scapegoat to turn to the tech companies and be like, this is your fault. But in reality there wouldn’t be so much political issues taking place in social media platforms if the government was functioning as it should. Like people wouldn’t have anything to talk about on social media, if they were doing their jobs well. So instead of being a provocation for self-reflection, it was just like, let’s interrogate them and place the blame on them. And I think that’s really unfortunate, but the truth in this case.
Josh Thompson – CEO, Civics Unplugged: 01:03:50
Right? Like what if the Russians were actually trying to tear down American democracy, but yet we were all like, yo actually, it’s so great. And my elected official actually was doing all of these wonderful things. It’s a total paradigm shift.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:04:07
Yeah. Chabu, that’s a great point. When you talked about how tech kind of reveals things that are kind of going wrong in our democracy, I kind of draw a parallel to the pandemic because the pandemic exacerbated and created more issues, but it also revealed a lot of underlying issues as well. And so I think that, while it has created both of them really just show fundamental flaws that our democracy, which there’s a lot to be said about that as well.
Max Polsky – Builder, Civics Unplugged: 01:04:47
Yeah. I agree with you there. And I also kind of what Gary said about humans being most flexible to tools kind of struck me because we spend a lot of time and other people have mentioned this too, placing the blame on other people and that’s valid, but at the same time, we can really only control ourselves on. We can only tell ourselves what to do. And we have so much abilities to make change if we actually put our time into it, then I feel like we could all, or at least a lot of us could be more productive in in our participation in democracy instead of being like, Oh, you shouldn’t have done this look at what can I do to prevent you from doing this a second time? Stuff like that.
Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:05:48
Yeah. And what I’ll add to that is it’s really hard. I mean, I’ve had really good conversations with this one leader of points of light, which is George H bushes, nonprofit who wants to work with us on some events potentially on Juneteenth. And their whole thing is let’s demystify what civic contribution could look like. And that’s right in line with so much of what we’re doing, especially with Chabu and Madison are doing with the Unplugged School of process really just kind of explicate, what are the things that are relevant to leadership development? What are the processes that are relevant to leadership development and better communities and better democracies? So I mean, it’s kind of just to go back to the point of the role of Civics Unplugged. I think we have a huge role to play, to enable humans to be the tools that build democracy that they can be. So it’s also important for us to not blame other people for choosing the ways of being civically engaged that day that they literally see on Twitter because I have to admit that was my route as well. And it was deeply unfulfilling after a while, but if there’s no other path it’s really hard to blame people.
Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:07:26
This is very cool. This conclusion of the past couple of treks have reminded me of this quote that I really like, that I really resonate with in terms of CU it’s “trust me now, understand me later.” And a lot of things that happen in CU they make sense like at first, but the more that you dig into it, it makes even more sense you start to understand it more. And so I bring that up because the past couple of conversations we’ve gotten back to, like, it starts with me, which is what we started with and being, or in fellowship, we were talking about personal development and trying to grow yourself. And that theme has only become reinforced more and more. And as we understand, it only makes more sense. And so I think that’s the coolest thing, and it really just validates the work that we’re doing here that we’re taking to building the future. And so, yeah, I think that we can wrap up on that note. Thank you all for coming again, such an amazing conversation. Thank you again, Mohit for joining us and Josh as well. Would love to have you all back at a future trek. We are having these about three times a week now, so there’s going to be plenty in the future if you want to hop on one.
Mohit Mehta – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:08:39
Thank you, guys, so much for having me really appreciate it and would love to hop on others. And I’m excited to be part of this annual journey or lifetime journey with Civics Unplugged. And Gary is my point of contact and Josh is my point of contact but would be happy to open that up to all of you guys as well in terms of being available and working with you guys on anything and everything, even if it’s just a conversation.
Published By: Traders Network Show