In an impromptu flurry of activity, Random Hacks New Orleans was official 10 days before the event. I had never been to New Orleans before, but the components were in order and we were go for launch – at LaunchPad! Some lovely folk I had barely met offered an amazing amount of assistance. Datawind sent us some tablets to work on their AppsToEmpower project. LaunchPad offered to host and promote. CODEMKRS reached out to offer to help with PR. Lanyap and Susco offered sponsorship. Katy, and Kate, and Travis were especially amazing in all this. It was pretty incredible, especially as I was at wit’s end from the first organizing team rescinding their ability to help – in an email written in comic sans 11 days before the event.
And then something new happened. People got pissed off.
New Orleans has a long and torrid history. Many parts of it are downright ugly and awful (with of course the strange beauty that only emerges out of such awfulness). And one of the current, deep concerns is around the gentrification of the city, including the entrepreneurial scene. That, coupled with the long history of people coming in, capes on, to “save” the locals, means there are some pretty sharp tensions to be navigated. I morally and academically understand and advocate for the listening to the affected population, the designing for the end user. We’ve done a pretty good job of it in the past, and in helping other groups do this. I hadn’t messed this up before (or heard about it, if I had). But I had become arrogant, at least to some degree, and I hadn’t noticed (which I assume is a key component for arrogance). This was amazing in that it was reflected back in my face (and of the whole National Day of Civic Hacking) with humor and assertion via National Day of Hacking Your Own Assumptions and Entitlement.
We have the ability to use new tools in service. As technologists, we are not here to solve problems, we are here to help people help themselves and each other, if they want our help. As amazing person and dear friend Dr Eric Rassmussen says, “there are no solutions, we can only hope to leave things less messed up than when we came.” Technology is not a band-aid to be slapped on human problems and history. It is a tool with which we can bridge long standing gaps and address inequality. It can also be use to aggravate those issues. Appallingly often, we do the latter while thinking we are doing the former.
The attendees of #RHoKNOLA have done a great job of building a tool for NOLAforLife, pushed forward by members of CODEMKRS. It’s called StopBeef, and it’s about linking people trapped in a cycle of violence with someone they both respect, who is willing to mediate. This is an initiative that has happened on a small scale, and the hope is to make it propagate further by digitizing the matching aspect. It’s lovely to see people apply their skills towards something they think will make the world suck less. I’m still not sure it’s what’s needed, or that it will actually help. I’m worried about the security they have with it, but am glad they have long-term implementation plans for that as well as the platform itself. But I do know that people feeling empowered, and that new people learning to work together means we’ll have an easier time of helping ourselves in the future. Let’s just be sure we’re helping those around us as well.
If the platform works out well, it can also be deployed as a part of the Apps To Empower platform. Conflict resolution is something which is useful in many places. Another question for another entry is around local productions being transferred or scaled to other locations. What can be considered here is the template of the idea, and if it is usable in other places. But always, always, only if people want it.
And while you’re at it, do please follow @NOLAtrep. Utterly amazing.