Social Technologies and Why Being a Computer Nerd is Overrated

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February is known to the Nehiyawak (Cree people) as Kisipism or “Eagle Moon.” It was at this time of the year that the eagle would return from the south and was recognized as being the herald of spring.

The eagle is one of the most sacred birds of the Cree people because it carries prayers to the Creator and is associated with what holds together a family. Therefore, the eagle is a symbol for the values that hold families and relationships together, and emphasizes the importance placed on teaching good values to all members of the family unit.

At Naheyawin, we values the skills and tools that each member of our team brings to the table and place strong emphasis on using curiosity as a tool to grow, learn and continue to do the tenacious work that we do. This month, our blog posts will reiterate how we use curiosity in our daily tasks to continue on our journey.


Social Technologies and Why Being a Computer Nerd is Overrated

By Jacquelyn Cardinal

Growing up, I was always someone who gravitated towards technology.

Hardware and software fascinated me and captured my imagination about what the future could look like. In fact, my very first memories are of being in front of my parents’ Mac 2, clicking around on Paint and playing Snoopy to the Rescue.

Job growth in the technology industry is high and promising (Time Magazine believed that demand in goods and services would triple, which I think we have observed), and the culture is (mostly) interested in the importance of pursuing meaningful work. It’s a very exciting time to be alive.

One particularly exciting aspect about this time that we’re living in is that we’re witnessing a second information revolution. This will force us to interact even more with our fledgling ideas about what it is to be connected and what it is to do work.

Enter the Blockchain

The advent and popularization of blockchain technology has coincided with an important part of my journey, and is the source of my now-potentially overused refrain: “I’m just good at using a specific shovel - the actual hard work, and what we need as a culture, are people who are able and willing to tell me where to dig.”

What has resulted is this: we as a culture have grown to value competency in using tools over the value of the philosophies that govern how, when, and why we utilize them. It’s an inversion, and one that serves our short term at the cost of our long term.

But let’s back up.

For those who don’t know what blockchain is, you might recognize the term cryptocurrency or the product Bitcoin. Blockchain is the technology that allows secure peer-to-peer transfer of digital goods, and facilitates the transaction of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. It’s truly decentralizing the accumulation, storage, and transfer of wealth. If you’re looking for more information about the three terms, find out more here.

On one level, the public fervor over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies excites me because it truly is a massive technological leap forward, and it’s great to listen to people talking about something that just a few years ago was only part of ultra-nerd discourse. What is frustrating is that these conversations, in my opinion, are seeming to miss the true value of this technology.

In reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari a few years back, I was introduced to the concept of “intersubjective imaginaries” or things that exist to human beings because enough of us say they exist. These intersubjective imaginaries facilitate our ability to organize and do truly great things together, good and bad. Nations, laws, and money are the obvious examples of things that don’t technically exist outside of our collective belief that they exist.

These things are technologies - social technologies, but technologies nonetheless. And what’s fascinating about them is that even though many people might not consider them as important as the machines classically associated with technological advancement, our social technologies actually underpin each and every one of them, with our machines merely facilitating those technologies.

This brings us back to blockchain and the intensely philosophical questions you can’t avoid if you’re involved in developing this technology and imagining its impacts: what do we believe has intrinsic value? Is it time? Energy? Land? Gifts?

How should this value be distributed?

Who is defining this value?

Right now our money derives its value from debt. Is that a society that we want?

What does this mean for Indigenous peoples, and our own ways of defining value?

Maybe now you can see why knowing how to use a computer is such a small part of the equation.

Pasts and Futures

This growing understanding has completely changed my perspective of my place as a young person, as a technologically savvy person, and as an Indigenous person. Previously, I had assumed that this pull that I have to the future and to the past is something that was just part of the mental furniture of being me and is, by definition, irreconcilable. How can a person who values ancient governance principles of Indigenous peoples truly engage with the fast-paced and exponentially growing world of modern technology and not feel torn?

I am a complete and total technologist - I just didn’t realize that a part of me had always been fascinated by the partially obfuscated social technologies that my ancestors had developed. For example, the term wakhotowin - how we relate with all things - is an Indigenous governance principle that provides a framework for understanding how to build, maintain, and value the inherent interdependency of all things. Just like APIs, interacting with that system can be an Archimedes lever for navigating life in an effective, coherent way.

But it’s not enough to know how to use these tools. And I think it’s obvious in spaces other than leading technology that tools don’t actually give directives about where we should spend our precious time in this life. It’s as if with each passing generation we’re forgetting more and more why we first took up these Master's tools. I am fairly certain it wasn’t to get super good at them and then hold those individuals up as examples of objective success.

My strong belief weakly held is that, despite my dedication to the leadership role I’m asked to play as an Indigenous woman with a proclivity for technology, I am, and always will be, simply a person with a specific skillset who is in the service of community.

The true driver of this bus, and the pathway forward, are our Indigenous social technologies that will govern what matters, where we’re going, and what kind of world we’re preparing for - from our own perspective, and not simply in reaction to what we don’t want.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating time to be alive, and it’s an especially fascinating time to be an Indigenous person.

I know I speak for many Indigenous youth when I say that what we need right now is direction towards reclaiming and innovating upon our own social technologies. To, as Alfred Taiaiake says is the goal, make it easier for future generations to be more Indigenous than we are today.


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