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One Big Thing: On Techno-solutionism

I came across the Crazy/Genius (from The Atlantic) podcast last week, and they had a thought-provoking discussion with computer scientist and data journalist, Meredith Broussard (@merbroussard). The theme was techno-chauvinism, which is sort of a beefed-up version techno-solutionism. Basically, the monolithic thought process that inevitably leads to something like, "New technology can and will fix this problem," as a solution to most everything. 

I'm still bullish on innovation as a net benefit. There's a separate, and vitally important, discussion to be had about the king-making we do as a society with startups - usually based largely on outsized valuations. But look at education, look at modern medicine, accessibility, and the any number of ways our lives have improved because of the Internet.

The discussion is clearly changing around the consequences of rapid technological innovation - look no further than last two years for Facebook for reference. People are talking about data security, troll culture, and other ills of the connected world as never before. Think back to, say...2010. Facebook was growing, Twitter was ascendant, and the praise and reverence stacked up. Let's face it - things have changed. This is because people like Meredith Broussard are discussing them very publicly. 

A great example she brings up is autonomous vehicles.  

Autonomous vehicles (buses and cars) are going to become the norm in congested urban areas in the very near future. As Broussard notes, women have spent centuries trying to avoid uncomfortable situations with strange men - and autonomous ride shares could result in countless encounters like this. A bus without a bus driver is a fundamentally different environment - there's no referee should something go wrong. A pool-share taxi without a taxi driver is the same (to be sure, ride-sharing hasn't had a perfect run in terms of security - especially in India where there countless cases of drivers assaulting women). 

She's 100% right. But, it's still early days and the mere fact that this discussion is happening now is a good thing. At the moment, there are instances of autonomous vehicles being put to practice, but the technology is not there yet, and our cities are certainly not there yet. 

If we can shape the policy debate now about the situations that rise from a more autonomous world, we can ensure that the benefits outpace the negatives. Those discussions are happening now, and I encourage everyone to share their concerns with an interface-based reality. It's a good thing. It will help us get this closer to right.

- Sree (writing from Chicago on my way home after hearing Prof. Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame speak at PrathamUSA's Chicago gala and hearing Dr. Jill Biden and ocean exploring legend Sylvia Earle speak at the Aquarium of the Bay's gala. All three were super inspiring and you can read my tweets about them here. And also see my notes from two days in LA and Sharon Waxman's #TheGrill2018 conference here).

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A shoutout to the generous sponsors of my global social media tour, including Global Teacher PrizeBombay Shirt Company, and Hashtracking. To learn about sponsoring my tour, 25+ cities in 10+ countries: And am grateful to work with many incredible clients in my new life, including PrathamUSA and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

👩🏽‍💻 A big part of the reason our news coverage comes up short with regards to reporting on minority issues, women, and more? The press corps is pretty much all white men. Read it @ Vox

🕺🏽 We're living in the era of peak dad joke. It's sort of a meme, but let's face it, we all know a solid dad joke when we hear it and it's pretty tough not to laguh (most of the time), even if there's a mild roll of the eyes built in. 
Read it @ The Atlantic

🚫 Singapore is taking steps to legislate "Fake News" and how it spreads on social media (and the regular old Internet). On it's face, it seems like a good idea, but it's not so simple. Read it @Buzzfeed

📸 The addition of Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) to the NYT opinion page is a very good thing. Last week, I wrote about the Instagram founders' leaving, but she covers it much better than I ever could. Read it @ The New York Times

🤮 Gamergate (sort of) started it, but the information architecture of trolling is re-shaping American politics (global politics, really). It's not going to get any better any time soon. Read it @ Wired
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Data Points ✅

Well, the results are in and the rest of the world is pretty much over the idea of a Donald Trump-led United States - especially those in Europe (see chart below). But it's not just across the Atlantic. Worldwide, people have more confidence that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping will do the right thing than they have in President Trump. Read the whole thing here

Listen to Something 🎧

One thing I rarely discuss here is entertainment. Obviously, "I like movies" is the most-generic phrase imaginable, but I do like movies! Unspooled is a new podcast that features actor-comedian Paul Scheer (@paulscheer) and film critic Amy Nicholson (@TheAmyNicholson) going through the AFI Top 100 list. It's great to hear sort of a refreshed take on the films we all know - like "E.T.," "Taxi Driver," and much much more. Listen to the E.T. episode here.

Watch Something 📺

This week, I did a one-hour workshop/webinar for my new friends at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre on a topic close to my heart: How creative and nonprofit organizations can use social media to advance their causes. Here's the full video. If you want to chat, or walk, or work together, just reply to this email. If you have ideas and experience - reach out! 

Our Best Today, Our Better Tomorrow

Sunday NYT Readalong: Every Sunday morning at 8:30 am ET/12:30 pm GMT, I read and critique the print edition of the NYT on FB Live. You can join us live or via recording any time at This week, my guest is NYT reporter and author Katie Rosman (@katierosman). You don't want to miss this!

Digimentors is live - it's my new membership program. Join now!

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