System.out.println(“I Can’t Breathe\n”);
Technology’s Role in Modern Day Social Justice
June 1st, 2020 was the first early morning I’d had in what felt like ages considering how long I’d gone without really having to do anything. Until then I was just kind of existing due to the fact that there was, I kid you not, an actual real life pandemic happening around the globe. In 2020. AD.
Anyway, my reason for being such an early bird that day was that I had an online orientation to attend at the Flatiron School; my nerd training would soon commence. I was sleepy but excited to start, but what was supposed to be a happy day for me had been overshadowed by more serious, consequential events in the week leading up to it.
Exactly 7 days before, after a rambunctious Memorial Day weekend during which people partied in pools, sans masks, for the first time since a deadly virus started picking us off, a man tried to buy cigarettes with a fake twenty. Not only did this prove to be a deadly decision for the man in question because, as it turns out, petty crimes are still grounds for public execution if you’re black in most of America, but this also led to the spark that finally lit the fuse on a bomb this country’s been sitting on for most of its history, making him an unfortunate martyr. I’ll save you the details cause I’m sure anyone who was sentient over the last month has gotten at least the gist of it. And if you’ve just woken up from a coma, welcome back! You’ve got a lot of googling ahead of you.
What came next proved to be public dissent and protest that could rival the Frenchiest of revolutions. Maybe. But had the proverbial straw broken the camel’s back at any point before our current time of ubiquitous, almost pervasive access to technology, I don’t know that this incident would have attracted even a fifth of the attention that it did, and there are numerous unnoticed straws throughout history to back me up on that.
One spring evening in 1992, after a relatively unremarkable day, a man found himself standing by his apartment window armed with a camcorder. He’d captured the heinous actions of the LAPD as they beat one Mr. King within an inch of his life just across the street. This went on to become one of the earliest examples of consumer technology being used to hold those in authority accountable for their abuse of power, and, for the first time, the world had proof of the power that a simple electronic device could give to a civilian.
Since then, as camcorders became digital cameras, and as those cameras cemented their place in pocket-computers that possessed near telepathic access to the rest of the world, incidents like the Rodney King beating and the Murder of George Floyd are no longer going unnoticed. In fact it seems as if though they’re happening now with more regularity. But for certain people in society those encounters have always been regular, just rarely televised to the general public until now.
Although cameras aren’t the only weapons now available to civilians.
With the advent of the internet — the telepathy I mentioned earlier — we’ve also obtained organizational abilities that made things like Occupy Wallstreet and the Arab Spring possible. We’ve all been given a chance at a global platform on which to voice our opinions, and we have just about every conceivable bit and byte of human knowledge at our fingertips. You can imagine how game-changing something like this can be even for society’s most disenfranchised; the once voiceless now have a voice independent of any altruistic privileged “ally” willing to give them the time of day.
Which brings me to week three of my time at Flatty’s. This being the time in which we start applying what we’ve learned over the past two grueling weeks of intense 10-hour programming days to build our first solo project. For this assignment we were each paired up with a partner and instructed to build a basic application for whatever we’d like, so long as we implemented the limited knowledge we’d gained up till this point.
Initially I had some admittedly far too ambitious ideas of card games, and city-wide virus tracking, but I threw those away once my partner floated the idea of a Yelp-like database for cops. Immediately my mind went wild; I had a billion ideas for his idea, and, as I tend to do when I get excited, I’m sure I began talking and executing far more than I should have. I am so sorry Stephen.
From that idea also came the inspiration for this blog post. Considering the effect our technological advancement has had in our attempt to close the gap of inequity, what role would a project like ours really have? There are so many other applications out there that attempt to do something similar: Citizen allows us to alert our neighbors of any crime and other major events in real-time, and Wildfire does the same but with a weird focus on spectatorship. There are dozens of these apps with similar functions, but do any of them really have the power to hold the individuals tasked with protecting us accountable for their actions? Probably not, and I don’t know how far I’m willing to pursue this, but one can’t help but think about the potential an application like ours could have in the context of our current outrage.
And look, I know the advancement of technology has also served to further the opposite agenda just as much; that of the police state that tracks faces and creates firewalls to block the propagation of bondage severing information, but that’s a story for another class required blog post. Also, yes, forgery is a felony, but c’mon.