Assumptions Tech People Make While Trying to Save the World

For all the creative vision of technology entrepreneurs, it’s easy to forget a few basic facts about the world we think we know so much about. I had another reminder of this while chatting with a brilliant coworker from Pakistan today.

1) We assume that a smartphone won’t be stollen. In the parts of the world we’re trying to save, we forget that the value of a smartphone itself exceeds the value of the data on it for thief, or official, under whose eyes it passes.  Encrypting that sucker has a very limited effect on reducing its value to the common theif.

2) We assume there will be internet. Tweeting to revolution is the next big thing we say. But we forget that these places have little, or unreliable internet connections. While we live stream movies over Netflix, people in India can barely load the Facebook home page, everyone’s connection in Iran is bandwidth limited to 128kbs, and the Taliban blows up cellphone towers in Afghanistan.

3) We assume that people have a computer or smart phone of their own. We forget that the most vulnerable are often poor and live communally. The “Personal Computer” people use is the grubby one in the basement of the cyber shop down the street, and who knows what kind of viruses live on that thing, or whether the shop owner looks through the digital crumbs left by his customers.

Sometimes we in Silicon Valley forget that it’s not computers that change the world, it’s people. People who face their fears and band together with both wisdom and courage and press for the respect of their human dignity.

Now what, technology or otherwise, would help facilitate that? What kind of careful listening do we need?