My decision to attend the Kennedy School was part of a long transition that is focused on doing SOMETHING that would enrich someone other than myself. I hoped (and still hope that) I would learn the necessary skills, to motivate, organize, and drive groups of people to action. This is actually something that I was highly effective at during my career in finance. Of course, the tools and motivations were much different in that realm than in my new chosen world of advocacy and action for the public good.
Presently, I am in the process of taking classes that will help my transition including Strategic Management of NGO’s, Science of Behavioral Change, and of course Power and Politics in the Digital Age. While I am learning a lot about what I need to do, I am also learning quite a bit about the challenges that I face.
These challenges primarily are in 2 areas. First, how can I express my true views and still get interest and buy in from people who don’t exactly share my view. While I like to think that I am reasonable and principled, I am aware that I can be aggressive and impatient. I also know that I read the New York Times and live in Brookline, Ma, two facts that put me in a very distinct category!! Interestingly, I force myself to read the WSJ and watch Fox News just to see what the other side thinks. The point is, that I have always lived inside a “Filter Bubble”. Of course, I never had any idea how airtight that bubble was until now.
What is a Filter Bubble? Its when online providers, everyone from Google to Amazon, to Facebook give you information based on your previous activity on the net. Its big businesses attempt to target information to you in order to maximize sales. While it has the benefit of making the sheer volume of information on the web manageable, it has the effect of making YOUR decisions for YOU. Most of you don’t know this but you should and it should scare you. Basically every click you make is noted, stored, categorized, and given back to you on future searches.
I know that this scares me because it is yet one more way in which my privacy is invaded. This is the second challenge that I (we) face. Everything I do and say on the internet I assume will be monitored and more importantly, RETAINED for an unknown period of time by not only my government which I don’t always trust, but by many corporations who not only sell information to each other for commercial purposes, but to our governments. For those of us who remember the day when we said, wrote about or took photos of things that we wouldn’t want our mothers to see, those days are over. Anything that you or someone else posts about you is in the public domain forever.
For some one like me that has views that are somewhat anti-institution, the risks could be significant. How difficult would it be to alter my credit score or to alter the balances in my bank accounts? How difficult would it be for some one to create stories about me in order to discredit me and my ideas? The answer is, not very!! Although we don’t have material evidence of this behavior in the United States, governments around the world use the Internet to propagate their views and discredit those of their perceived opposition. This is especially true in places like China and the Middle East. While I actually would like to believe that the Internet and social media are the great equalizers to corporate and government power, this is not the case.
I perceive that in order to be a successful agent for change, I will need to be a bridger. That is someone who can both create a message that is neither left nor right and someone who can use social media tools to reach out to people who aren’t just like me demographically. I will need to break out of the over educated, East Coast, affluent world to find people who while looking different share the same concerns about our great nation and where WE want it to go.
If I am successful at this, there is no doubt that I will incur risk from the institutions that I seek to weaken or alter. I’m not sure that there’s much I can do to protect myself from this as much of my life is already out there. This is not something that I am concerned about. You can be certain that I am concerned about the digital world that my children are growing up in. You can also be certain that this is a topic of conversation at the dinner table EVERY night. Hopefully my daughters will use these tools to THEIR advantage while retaining as much of their privacy as possible.