The Fallacy of Impression-Based Impact Technology

By: Bear Matthews, Head of Relations @ AstraLabs

In simplicity, the notion of ethical-tech comes down to a reevaluation of impact development. With our accelerating capacity to build tools for those in need, it’s more important than ever that we learn to reinterpret the limits of our innovation. The fact of the matter is that it’s become

far too easy to measure success by inflated metrics of “impressions”. But this is nothing new — everyone knows we live in imagined realities that incubate the spread of feel-good content. Within the world of nonprofits especially, this is an epidemic like no other. It’s undeniable that over the past decade we’ve participated in an increasing reliance on technology as a medium of connection. But that’s just the way of our times, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

However, the product of this is the seemingly forgotten memory of what it’s like to truly help a stranger. In theory we still donate to the same causes, engage in the same meaningful dialogues, and reap the same positive “I did good” vibes. But at the individual level, that being, for those who truly need our help — things have never been worse.

You see, as we’ve made this invigorating leap into our tweet-sized lives, a scaring percentage of impact-development organizations have assumed that their support practices can make the same leap too. This should all make sense so far; technology has made our lives better, no reason it shouldn’t support the lives of those less fortunate also, right?

Well, yes, but no — and let me explain. Within the world of community development we’ve come to assume a troubling parallel between consumer and impact technology; that innovation is the product of information, which is in turn the cornerstone of efficient economies of scale.

Problem is, communities in need aren’t economies of scale.

As such, our impact-related roadmap for technological transition is flawed by the very processes by which it is designed. In short, we’re forgetting people. The defining feature of ethical-tech is an inherent dignity with which products are designed. With that being said, as nonprofits we need to restructure the metrics by which we allow ourselves to measure our impact. This begins by renewing our capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue grounded in questions alike “how can we help?” rather than “how would this work?”.

It’s our duty to direct the development of support tools for people, with people. The greatest fallacy of our impression-based society is the ability to try again. Unfortunately, realities remain wherein efficient emergency relief will never be awarded the same flexibility of multiple iteration cycles. We must begin to design systems of innovation and communication that are cognizant of the memory of what it was once like to help one person at a time.

Community development, emergency relief and prevention services all begin with supporting the individual in need. Our technology needs to begin reflecting that. Luckily, I’m happy to say we’re working on this at Astra Labs! As a youth-run 501(c)3 that operates with the mission of developing software for communities in need, it’s our job to design processes that engage the individual in designing their own support. This not only produces higher innovation adoption rates; that being the number of people who actually use the tools, but also reduces technical errors.

By walking away from our inefficient past of consumer-marketed products, and realizing the potential of patient-designed support, ethical-technologies are primed to prevail.


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