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All Big Ideas in Tech

BIT – Week 5 – Change

Prodigy is, at its essence,
adaptability and persistent,
positive obsession. Without
persistence, what remains is
an enthusiasm of the moment. Without
adaptability, what remains may
be channeled into destructive
fanaticism. Without positive
obsession, there is nothing at all.
—Earthseed, Parable of the Sower

I really believe in this—those we look up to in society (MLK, Steve Jobs, etc) mostly weren’t otherworldly smart. (“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.” —Steve Jobs) But these people had an unending obsession with a better version of the world. They worked their way toward their vision of it, adapting as the world changed around them.

We act like we just have to live with our economy and money and systems of commerce and government. And yes, at the logistical level, these things are difficult to change when we’re on the ground as individuals. But I think we easily forget that we created all of this stuff. We’re not obligated by the gods to use the United States Dollar and make healthcare expensive, or to use coal to generate electricity. These are all choices “we” (or dead versions of we) made, and we can change them. If we refuse to change our choices, we are failing to live up to our potential (impostor syndrome on a societal scale?).

I think it’s critical we remember we can change the world. That agency belongs to us as humans. We can cultivate optimism, we can build a better world. Literally who is to tell us we can’t? Mitch McConnell? Leaders of other countries? Human power does not extend to controlling thought unless we’re in a enclosed environment. As far as we know, we’re not in one, & regardless, we should behave as if we’re not.

We have the power to think bigger, to go further. No one can stop us—except, perhaps most dangerously, because it’s not the visible enemy—our own preconceptions of what is possible.

2 causes for optimism

Two pieces of work in the world inspiring me right now:

  1. Hack Club is a nonprofit network of high school coding clubs & makers around the world. I found them early when I was in high school, started a Hack Club at my school where 100+ students built their first websites, and the experience drastically changed my life for the better. Thousands of students talk around the clock in the online chat room, from dozens of countries & hundreds of clubs. So, so little has changed about American education in the last 25 years—alarmingly little, and what has changed is not helping students (pervasive surveillance, more testing, etc). Hack Club is about students taking their education into their own hands, using constructionist philosophy, and learning by building, organizing events, and engaging with the professional world. It’s an organization by the students, for the students, as we like to say, and it’s one of the only positive things in education I can think of.
  2. The Centre LGBTQ+ Support Network is a nonprofit in my hometown building a better community for LGBTQ+ people of all ages. It’s not a tech startup with ambitions of disrupting the world and making a billion dollars—it’s a collective of nice people who care about our community, and want to make it better. They host events every week at a downtown café, have a youth group I was a member of at a local church, have a monthly parents meetup. They’re quietly doing work that ends up saving lives and making the world friendlier. I shout out this organization because they were so wonderful for me, but there are hundreds of these groups across America & around the world, not getting New York Times profiles or the attention of big donors, but having an incredible impact.