Spoiler alert: the Tech Bros are lying to you.
Tech bros, scientists, CEOs, presidents, heck even our technologically-challenged Boomer grandparents, all subscribe to the rhetoric that technology has made our lives easier. This discourse has become so ingrained in our common sense that it carries the same weight as stating that ‘the sky is blue’ or that ‘all hot girls are into astrology’.
However, this rhetoric doesn’t exist without good reason. Technology has arguably transformed our everyday lives in a myriad of ways. We can connect instantaneously with our besties, even if they live in butt-fuck nowhere like West Auckland. We can find out the name of our uni crush’s aunt’s dog with just a few Facebook searches. Especially with the existence of platforms like Youtube, it’s now possible to access in seconds tutorials on how to yodel or crochet sock puppets, amongst other important life skills necessary for modern-day existence.
But has technology really made our society more equitable? Or has it only made life a little cushier, easier, and more convenient, for a privileged few? To answer these questions, it’s imperative that we examine the ideological implications that come with subscribing to the “technology has made our lives better” rhetoric that the Brads and Chads of Silicon valley preach. Well, for starters the fetishisation of technology only preserves the chokehold that tech corporations have on our economy and personal lives. If we’re told repeatedly that technological development is unquestionably a positive force, how do we restrain the economic influence of tech giants like Google and Apple? Outside the economy, as consumers, where do we draw the line between what is ‘okay’ and ‘too far’ when it comes to tech companies accessing our personal information? What restraints are in place to prevent these corporations from exploiting their power? The fact that none of this information is readily accessible or common knowledge just goes to show that this rhetoric should not be some universal truth we all blindly accept. Although it’s difficult to challenge the ideological influence tech giants hold, what we can do is interrogate the various ways that technology produces inequitable outcomes.
Firstly, technology is usually pretty expensive, which creates a significant barrier to entry. Whether we’re describing laptops, phones, or home internet, each of these pieces of tech come with a considerable cost that is often not affordable for many households. Neither is powering these devices. Being unable to afford power, let alone the internet, is something that impacts many families in Aotearoa. The Ministry of Health estimated that currently at least 7000 to 8000 students from Years 9 to 13 do not have access to devices or stable internet at home. So clearly, the economic cost of purchasing and running technology poses a significant issue for New Zealanders of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
If the lack of equity of access to technology wasn’t apparent before, the first lockdown of 2020 made sure to hammer home the realities and prevalence of the digital divide in Aotearoa. Kaveesh, an Urban Planning student, notes that a considerable number of students “can’t afford a laptop even though it’s vital for their education”. Although this has been an ongoing issue for decades, education institutions needed a full blown pandemic “to provide students with an essential learning device”. Given how expensive technology is, in combination with the increasing economic inequality in Aotearoa, as we develop into an increasingly technology dependent society, it’s clear we are leaving many New Zealanders behind.
Technology also comes with its own language. This is another barrier as whether or not someone has received prior exposure and experience with technology is usually a direct result of their upbringing and background. It’s unrealistic to expect all students and employees to harbour pre-existing knowledge of basic computer systems and skills. Not all of us come from backgrounds where our families could provide the knowledge and devices to become technologically adept. Vanisha, a Design and Commerce student, reports that they have “had a lot of people (mostly old people) come to Whitcoulls (where they work) asking for books about computers because they just can’t get the hang of it”. This is a significant equity issue. Especially as many things have moved online—these barriers make it harder for some people to go about their daily tasks like paying bills or booking appointments. Being ‘tech savvy’ is a privilege many of us take for granted. Rikka, a Computer Science and Design student, notes that “the introduction of tech into early schooling builds that literacy. Once you know how to operate the basic everyday tech well, it becomes immensely easier to understand other devices and concepts”. Thus, it’s important to recognise that what school you go to greatly impacts the quality and quantity of technological education you are exposed to from an early age.
Paving the way for an equitable world using tech is impossible without the examination of who makes our technology and who they are making it for. When we look at the teams of people behind big technology companies—who is making the final decisions? Do they reflect society as a whole, or just a small privileged minority? Access to technology means different things within different contexts. Molly, a Design and Arts conjoint student, states that it’s important to look at “who is involved in the design process? Who is coding the software? How diverse are the teams who work on the technologies?” These are all important issues we should be holding tech giants accountable for.
Let’s not forget about the hellscape that is capitalism. As this unsustainable economic system is built upon acquiring more and more capital, at the heart of the production of goods is profit. From the assembly lines and distribution centres, to the hands of the consumer—the journey of a piece of tech from start to finish is tainted with exploitation. And as no technology is free, as long as we continue to live in a class-based society, there will never be such a thing as equitable tech. In a capitalist society, technological progress can never be entirely beneficial for all.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for equity. Or underestimate the power of technology to produce equitable outcomes. To access information and organisations that are striving to make the world a better place with technology, check out the resources below.
Digital Inclusion Map: An online database of digital inclusion projects and resources within Aotearoa. https://digitalinclusion.nz/#maptop
Recycle a Device (RAD): A non-for-profit organisation that helps get laptops (donated and refurbished devices) to those in need. https://recycleadevice.nz
DigiTautua: A group supporting Māori and Pasifika students in need to get new and refurbished devices. https://www.digitautua.org.nz