From Tech’s Empathy Vacuum to Zuck’s 2017 Challenge

Late November last year, I wrote a piece about Silicon Valley’s Empathy Vacuum for The New Yorker. It seemed to have struck a chord with a lot of people, especially in our industry. I am glad we started to talk about the issues we don’t normally talk about — the human consequence of disruption and what (if any role) technology industry should be playing during this period of whiplash inducing change.

From a local radio station in Los Angeles to Twit to Marketplace on NPR and the BBC — I was asked: what should we be doing? We can do a lot, and let’s start by having a conversation with those being disrupted. The change is hard, and it is harder for many who don’t live in the bubble of Silicon Valley. How about we #listenbetter and try and visit places we normally don’t go — rest of the country that isn’t Silicon Valley or New York.

Today, on the first work day of the new year, I was heartened to see Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has taken it as a personal challenge  to meet and talk to people in all states of the Union. (Mark’s previous challenges include running 365 miles, building a simple AI for his home, reading 25 books and learning Mandarin.)

Here is what he writes on Facebook:

My personal challenge for 2017 is to have visited and met people in every state in the US by the end of the year. I’ve spent significant time in many states already, so I’ll need to travel to about 30 states this year to complete this challenge. After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future. Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history. For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.

From my standpoint, I think this is a positive step forward and perhaps more folks in our industry will follow Mark’s lead and find a way to learn about the country and society outside of the proverbial Seahaven Island. I am personally looking forward to visiting as many places within the country and understanding what can be done.

January 3rd, 2017. San Francisco!

A letter from Om

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