To inspire people to move forward, we have to meet them where they are

I’m a futurist. I write and think a lot about the evolving relationship between people and technology. In all of my work, I try to engage people in a discussion about this. Whether I’m teaching an intro class to undergrads or sitting on a board for k-12 or coaching early stage startups or facilitating workshops with STEM Women.

In this work, I meet two kinds of people: people who are already engaged in deep thought and conversations about the relationship between people & technology and people who aren’t….yet.

It is my goal to encourage more people to engage in these conversations. Why? Because technology is a force. It scales really well. And active citizens are positioned to shape what it’s scaling in a way that passive citizens are not. So we need to be active and not let the future be shaped by an elite few.

As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff proclaims in one of his book titles, we must program or be programmed. Just look at the average person’s use of facebook and the confusion around the companies’ ethics violations to see how passive engagement with technology plays out. We end up getting tricked into blindly working for facebook, generating content for free that they then turn around and capitalize on.

So how do you encourage passive users of technology to become more active? The answer is surprising — you need to be empathic and you need to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to plop a gee whiz technology kit in front of an inactive user and say, “Just explore — be part of the future!” No, you really need to stand in that person’s shoes and understand why they have a passive relationship with technology but even further than that, why they think you are wrong to be promoting an active one. Empathy and vulnerability.

Most of us were brought up in an environment that taught us to not challenge authority and to let an expert few invent, manufacture, and disseminate new technologies. And while we feel comfortable expressing little acts of rebellion here and there — a tattoo, eating weird food, whatever — we are hesitant to stand up and be an active change agent. Managing our own lives is hard enough and there are so many distractions.

Please don’t tell me that on top of all that, I have to be a hacker to be a responsible citizen of the world. Because that stresses me out. But if you can show me how to be a change agent in a way that acknowledges and helps me push through fear and stress and anxiety, well then, I’m all ears.