Dear Internet Citizen,
As I learn full stack development, I am brimming with awkward awareness that there are people in the same vicinity as me who do not have the same access to computers and the internet. I regularly walk from the train station and see someone’s carefully constructed fortress made of cardboard and trashbags weaved in the roof to hold it together. I go to Starbucks and see someone with a dirty backpack and clothes and unkempt hair who is living outside regularly. As I walk to school each day, there are people I encounter who are unemployed, outside, and otherwise destitute even though we’re in the middle of DC near the White House.
I see them every week day I head to school, presumably because my walk from Metro Center to WeWork includes a Church, which can serve as a safehaven for many outcasts. In addition, it makes sense to be closer to the city with lots of people as well as food too for one’s own sake.
Many people walk by without so much as a hello. A woman today referenced the man in front of us in in as the “homeless man”, as though he had no name.
I once did not have the same access to the internet. I once was outside. I know what it’s like to ask for change on a corner in front of a 711 just to get a microwaveable hamburger. I know what it’s like to sleep outside in the snow because there is nowhere else to go. I often times feel more comfortable around them than I do my own classmates. Though my classmates are terribly friendly and helpful, I oftentimes don’t know what to say because my past is so tremendously different.
Every time I see people outside, I am reminded of my own responsibility to pay it forward or give back in ways that I can. It rained the other day and I thought of anyone who didn’t have a place to stay. Though not entirely having ‘made it’ and currently staying on a friends couch while attending school, I have been extraordinarily lucky compared to friends of friends who have ended up dead in dumpsters.
Have you taken time today to write what it is you are grateful for having? Do you have a home? Do you have food? Do you have the basics? Are you getting an education? Many do not and don’t.
I do the best I can to provide hope and kindness where I can and this includes in full stack development. I aim to and have built solutions and prototypes to problems I once had such as access to information through Gryd, or access to a network of couches through HostHome, while also striving to give back more materially. Sometimes, I’ve even offered up my place for people who need to shower or a place to stay, despite having just met them.
I do this because I used to carry around a list of gratitude so that I one day would be able to pay it back to those who literally kept me fed, clothed, and took me in. The list grew to be too long. (If one of you are reading this, then thank you, send me your contact and when I can I will pay you back or pay it forward at your request!)
I know viscerally that I have a duty to my fellow humankind to use my skills to create a kinder future where Big Problems such as homelessness and poverty are relics. Technology can and will help.
I can’t learn fast enough to help make this happen. Looking forward to graduation.
This post was inspired in part by Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks where on page 211-213, she outlines a modern technologists socratic oath of Do No Harm.
Citations: Eubanks, V. (2017). Automating inequality: How high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. New York, NY: St. Martins Press.
C.Z. Nnaemeka, CZ. “The Unexotic Underclass.” The MIT Entrepreneurship Review RSS, 19 May 2013, miter.mit.edu/the-unexotic-underclass/.