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Programming Government United States Technology

Code For America: 'The Peace Corps For Geeks' 58

Posted by Soulskill
from the with-moderately-less-malaria dept.
rjmarvin writes "Cities are taking coding to the streets through projects like Code for America and CityNext, working with governments on multiple levels to better serve constituents with mobile and cloud technologies. The 'Peace Corps for geeks' is using technology to make everyday life in cities run more smoothly, providing a way to 'connect technologists and designers with their government to solve important problems and reimagine how government could work.'"
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Code For America: 'The Peace Corps For Geeks'

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @02:34PM (#44725801)

    And in fact my daughter and I have been having this same conversation lately. I'm actually happy she's a philosophy major.

    Your daughter, probably the same age as my sister. I wrote this to her, and by extension, her generation, not long ago. I'm reposting it here as free to share, provided you properly attribute it to me;

    Dear Younger Generation,
    I'm from the generation that created your ipads, and your internet, and your webpages. I was around before the internet (which to you, is probably the same as saying I was around before the last dinosaurs died out), before cell phones, and I know that the "save icon" used to be a real thing -- they were called floppies. They were like pen drives, only flatter, and easier to break.
    So when I talk about technology, I hope you listen. I know you won't, like I didn't listen to my parents, and my parents didn't listen to /their/ parents, and so on. I know the majority of you haven't matured to the point to see the continuity between generations, that you are just one link in a very long chain. But that's okay. This message isn't for you today. This is a message for you to seal up in a bottle and forget about it for a few years... until it's time.
    The message is this:
    You cannot solve people problems with technology. If you have a problem with the world, you have to get out there, with other people, and do something about it. Not on the internet. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. In the street. In people's homes. At the grocery store. Wherever the problem is you want to fix, that's where you need to be, not in this abstract world my generation has created for you.
    We made this to be a tool to help you understand the world you're living in. To give it context and meaning, because we spent our lives confused and awestruck by how fast humanity was moving. It really is the dawn of a new era, and we have provided the first tools for the generations to come to orientate themselves in it. We know you're going to do more than any generation has. That's a given. That is the benefit of youth -- and this was our contribution, our link in the chain. Someday, it'll be a footnote just the same as the invention of the printing press was. And that's okay. We don't know what your link will be, your contribution; That is your journey. Every generation is born anew with the same potentialities, unjaded, fresh.
    But don't let this marvelous new invention, this new reality we have created, blind you to the deeper universal truths. Do not let them dampen and absorb your creative energies, and thereby weaken the case for further change. This was meant to be a tool to better understand the world we live in, not as an escape from it, or a substitution. You are still needed out there. This is a place to share your dreams, but it cannot fulfill them.
    You are not meant to live here.

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Saturday August 31, 2013 @03:28PM (#44726083) Homepage

    Absolutely true, but what's your point?

    Peace Corps specifically does a long pre-volunteer process to get local support for the work. The people may not care about the volunteers' work, but the local chief does, and they'll listen to him. The locals understand that the volunteers are trying to help, and they're bound by the local customs to accept it. Sure, there are some funny looks, but once that granary protects the crops from rodents and other thieves, it's appreciated. Finally, starvation is less of a problem in the village, and the locals accept help.

    No, it's not all roses and happiness. Nobody ever said it was. It's usually hard work in some of the harshest climates on Earth, trying to work through corrupt governments and isolationist locals. Sometimes, it outright sucks. You see people mistreated or dying, and you can't do anything about it because the customs demand it. Then other days, you see someone benefiting from your work, and they have a better future because of it. That's the moment that makes it worthwhile.

    You have to realize that volunteering isn't about solving the world's problems. Giving a village a granary or teaching better farming techniques isn't going to magically make everything better. Once your project's complete, you know it might be destroyed by a civil war next year. Ultimately, you can't bring civilization to people who don't want it. That's not the real point of the project, though.

    The locals aren't uncivilized. They aren't savages who need Western technology to save them from their heathen ways. They're people. They're people who, for various people-related reasons, have a harder life than they could. The Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations exist not to mold them to our ways, but to offer them a better life, and hopefully inspire a peaceful search for a brighter future. If that one granary inspires a local to learn about safer food handling, they might be able to promote using a new latrine, or even convince street vendors to wash their hands before preparing food. With less disease and starvation, they can move up Maslow's Hierarchy, and worry less about whether they'll die tomorrow or not.

    Volunteers don't bring civilization to the world. They bring the world to civilization.

We can predict everything, except the future.