A few days ago, I read Zuckerberg’s lofty manifesto and understood it as a relevant piece fighting to cast Facebook in a different post-election light than discussions of fake news and echo chambers. I found it interesting, value globalization, and appreciate the idea of removing arbitrary boundaries, but felt as though I was reading Facebook’s mission statement. Then, when perusing different podcasts after making it through all my favorites, I landed on one called Exponent. The title intrigued me; I’ve been reading Taleb’s The Black Swan & thinking quite a lot about the unpredictable nature of change. I also have a lot of concern about the growing disparity between different parts of society, one which will grow exponentially as technology improves, but is limited to those who can afford it.
Anyway, I listened to an episode called The Most Political & was struck by an observation Thompson & Allworth both landed on: that a whole lot of folks in the tech industry haven’t had enough experience with things other than the bubble of the valley. They discuss the way the idealism so often shown by tech companies is shown without recognition of its political nature. Now, there are a lot of very nuanced conversations to be had on those ideas (the disruption of traditional incentives, for example), but I’d especially like to say that I question the notion that a discussion about a sort of oneness of humanity is political. That said, something Thompson points out is that to assume that such large-scale change, even when it comes from broad intellectual intentions, fails to recognize that progress towards a peaceful and connected global society is not inevitable.
As someone interested in technology and the potential for positive change, I’ve found that recent events in my life have given me a lot to chew on, and hopefully a different understanding than others might have. I look forward to an exciting and well-paying internship this summer, one which very well may signal my journey into the idealistic bubble. I hope that my experiences during my gap year will provide me with an awareness of reality.
During my gap year, I discovered a lot of things about the world and myself, traveling to new and exciting places, having a ‘real job’ that forced me to keep my finances in check & required hard work, and living (sort of) independently (I was lucky enough to have a wonderful DC cousin with an empty basement room for lease & a whole lot of delicious breakfasts to share). The most formative experience for me was most likely my trip to Tanzania, where I realized that I am incredibly ignorant in most contexts, and that there is danger in failing to recognize that. I interned on the Hill, and became more steadfast in some beliefs while increasing my ambivalence on others. I’d hate to say that I lost my optimism, because I still do believe in an open, positive mindset, however have become much more of a pragmatist in recognizing the complexity of it all.
Most of us are drawn to categorization; I think we like tie multiplicity to normalcy, and therefore seek to group events or people or products in search of a sort of validation. I see a lot of danger in this as well, in political party affiliations that teach us a binary in beliefs that allows laziness in examination of our values and the issues at hand. I’ve also long been fascinated the things meant by the way we group others. I’m always a bit confused when I read headlines that use the word Africa but that are really only talking about one or two countries on the (massive) continent. The higher up the hierarchy of classification we go for certain groups, the less respect and understanding we have for their value and culture. We allow ourselves to overgeneralize, but also to take specific traits that may be common to a smaller subgroup and apply them to a much larger one. The most dangerous of these overgeneralization is the way a whole lot of white people (myself sometimes included) talk about Africa. I’m no expert on the continent, but even just having been to two countries off the East coast, I recognize that the people from those places have greatly different cultures, and histories that have shaped them in different ways. It becomes dangerous when we allow ourselves to take what little knowledge we have about a place and apply it to every subgroup. It allows us to oppress, and to view a continent as something undeserving of the same recognition and thought we give to members of the EU, countries on just about every other continent, and states in the US.
I write all of this in part because I’m not a coherent writer. I also write it because based on conversations and experiences during my gap year, I have come to find these nuggets of truth to be incredibly important and formative in my way of thinking about the world and the space I occupy in it. Gentrification, something I first learned existed during my time in DC, is a problem I am now incredibly cognizant of, and that will be on my mind wherever I live for the rest of my life. I’m not saying that I don’t contribute to problems that exist, or that I know how to fix them, but I am saying that because of the time I spent getting glimpses into the lives of those I would have never gotten otherwise, I hope to have perspective that shapes my actions and decisions for the better.
As far as gap years go, I’d like to think there’s no wrong way to take them. Spending a year working in the service industry (as I did for much of mine) has a lot of value. I learned to work hard, to respect those who know what they’re doing, and (relatively, of course), what it feels like to have your decisions restricted by your income (in part because I was saving much of mine to help pay for college). At the same time, I was able to travel some, and had some fascinating unpaid gigs as well. I know a lot of kids who take gap years wind up traveling or spending the year volunteering somewhere, options that also provide a whole lot of potential for thought and enrichment. Empathy is important, but providing meaning to it through actually experiencing that for which you have it is when it becomes powerful. As silly as it sounds, I can’t wait to have catered lunches brought in by some kind person from an area catering company and to thank them and tell my coworkers to wait until the caterers have setup to get their plates.
Of course, I don’t know what my path will look like as is the nature of things, but do hope that should I go from the comfort of college to a nice tech job, I’ll be able to think about how my decisions will affect people like some of those I got to know in DC. I hope to one day be able to take the valuable skills I’m learning right now and make them more accessible to those with different backgrounds from me and many of my peers. I’m not trying to say that if everyone gentrifying San Fransisco right now had taken a gap year San Fransisco wouldn’t be gentrified, but having an understanding rooted in more than idealism matters. To share the words of James Baldwin “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”