Baratunde is reminded that “tech companies” are really just people and asks what it would mean for tech employees to think critically about their work and its impact and use that power to remake the industry from the ground up? He talks with Xiaowei Wang, whose work at Logic School helps workers answer those questions. They also discuss blockchain, rice farming in rural China, and tarot. It’s all connected.
- PERSONALLY REFLECT
Consider consent and care
Think of what consent and care means to you, and think of what consent-ful and careful tech would look like, function like, feel like. What relationships would be strengthened? Shattered?
- BECOME INFORMED
Learn about critiques and better ways
Read this explainer on Platform Co-ops, which are digital platforms collectively owned and governed by the people who depend on and participate in them. And follow the work of The Gig Worker’s Collective which is shining a light on and advocating for the people who work at the other end of our smartphone taps and swipes.
- PUBLICLY PARTICIPATE
Support the alternatives and whistleblowers
Support community internet and technology groups like the Detroit Community Technology Project, NYC Mesh and Oakland Mesh. And check out The Tech Worker Handbook, a collection of resources to better prepare and support tech workers considering whether to speak out on issues that are in the public interest. Recommend it to a tech worker near you, but don’t send it to their work email!
Baratunde Thurston 0:02
Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a podcast that reimagines citizen as a verb, not a legal status. This season is all about tech, and how it can bring us together instead of tearing us apart. We're bringing you the people using technology for so much more than revenue and user growth; they're using it to help us citizen.
Xiaowei Wang 0:22
So, first, I'm going to open the circle. Sky above me, Earth below me, love around me, Divine within me. Mother, father, kind ancestors, thank you for your wisdom, which flows into us through us. The reading that we undertake today is for the joy and liberation of the sitter, and the greater joy and liberation of all. Thank you.
Baratunde Thurston 0:59
You had me at opening circle. That other voice you're hearing is Xiaowei Wang. Right now, they're reading my tarot cards. An old tech of sorts, the cards can provide insights into our past, present and future, and this reading hits pretty close to home. My mother was a very spiritually-curious person. I was baptized Catholic, but attended an Episcopal Church for most of my childhood. As my mom explored her own spirituality, she just dragged me along with her to Buddhist temples to chant, to our living room where she consulted the Taoist I Ching Book of Changes, to arenas for Native American powwows, and to her computer, where she would generate and read my astrological chart with her own software. Because of all this history, I've always been open-minded about the different paths we can take to find meaning and insights. So tarot, that was an easy yes. Now, Xiaowei's pulling three cards to help frame my current state of mind.
Xiaowei Wang 2:03
So, the middle card is the Two of Pentacles, so as you see it, it's this iconography of someone who is juggling, and in the back, there's actually a lot of water. So, water, meaning emotions. It's someone who, you know, you kind of see them, and they're like, a court jester, almost. So, it's a sense of, I'm juggling a lot, particularly in the material realm, so just like money, job, things like that. In the background is also this tidal wave of emotion, like, things look fun and playful on the outside, because I'm juggling for an audience, but in the back, there's a lot of emotion that's being kind of dammed up.
Baratunde Thurston 2:55
I take that court jester comment as a compliment. Now, if you saw my Google Calendar, you'd know how real the juggler image is to my life right now. I'm managing many commitments, including this podcast. I often consider the fact that I deal with difficult topics, like race and democracy, I refer to it as handling hazardous material. It takes an emotional toll, and as practiced as I am at performing have-it-all-togetherness, I'm often holding back a lot of emotions associated with my chosen work, that emotional water in the background of the card.
Xiaowei Wang 3:35
And on the other side, we have the Knight of Swords, and we have the Three of Cups. The Knight of Swords is someone who just has this energy that's just like, "oh, there's a problem? Let's do something about it. How can we fix this immediately?" There's this one side of me that's just in the material realm. As we're going through things, we have to fix it, we have to get things done, we have to move on to the next thing, moving at like a million miles an hour.
Baratunde Thurston 4:10
This is so me, I love to fix things. I literally fixed computers to help pay for college, and I'm always jumping to solutions in the face of almost any problem, even when the people around me don't want me to come up with a solution.
Xiaowei Wang 4:28
Then on the other side is the very real side of when we're doing community work, when we're dealing with emotions of other people, that's a kind of slowness that is very much, you know, counter to the Knight of Swords, who's like about to rush in. So, at least from this tarot reading, and I'm curious if any of this resonates with you, this notion of juggling between the two and the sense of, like, "I just want to fix it and do something about it," and then the other part that's, like, "no, slow down. Talk it through, talk about feelings."
Baratunde Thurston 5:08
This is dead on. This is... you got me. It's exactly where I am, really, and a lot of who I am in how I present and what's going on under the surface, but the support I'm finding, Xiaowei, that's this podcast. You know, you also just read for How to Citizen. So, thank you, that is one of the most potent ways of meeting a person that I've ever experienced. You have a bit of a gift, so, thanks for sharing it. I know, I know, a tarot reading seems random, but tarot isn't just woo-woo fortune telling.
Xiaowei Wang 5:46
I love reading tarot for others, and I always view it as helping others hold space or like holding up a mirror, if you will.
Baratunde Thurston 5:56
That's exactly what we're doing today. My guest, Xiaowei Wang, is going to help us hold a mirror, not just to me, but to the entire tech industry. Xiaowei is not only a tarot reader, but the lead steward of Logic School, an online school that empowers tech workers to transform the industry from within. They also wrote the book called Blockchain Chicken Farm, about tech in rural China. Xiaowei spent a lot of time traveling in China, and working in the tech industry themselves. Through these experiences, they learned a lot about how to transform the tech industry, and it may surprise you, but the solution is actually pretty low-tech.
Xiaowei Wang 6:41
Take time, take patience, move at the speed of trust and care. The act of talking to people and just being with them, that's the work, right? That's the transformation.
Baratunde Thurston 6:54
When we come back from the break, how a rural chicken farmer in China became a real-life Portlandia sketch. Hello, Xiaowei. How are you?
Xiaowei Wang 7:08
Good. It's nice to meet you, Baratunde.
Baratunde Thurston 7:11
Lovely to meet you. First off, I want to talk to you about your current work, Logic School.
Xiaowei Wang 7:17
Logic School is an organizing school for tech workers. Above all, it's really a community of 20 folks who get together every week, and laugh, and cry, and learn from activists, artists, people who are trying to think about changing tech and the tech industry. As part of it, there were a series of final projects that came out from the cohort, and it's been just such a joy and honor to serve as the lead steward of that school and see the work that people are doing.
Baratunde Thurston 7:54
You say the Logic School is for tech workers. What qualifies someone as a tech worker?
Xiaowei Wang 8:00
We made the definition really broad on purpose just to, you know, foster these incredible new connections. We had the gig worker to someone who used to work, actually, in government policy on tech, and was a bit disillusioned. I don't know what that says about regulation. Then, we also have, you know, engineers, designers from some of the big companies, so it was really cool to see that conversation unfold.
Baratunde Thurston 8:29
When when I think of a school for tech workers, the first thing that pops to mind is a place like General Assembly, or in a place that kind of creates the classic image of a tech worker, like they pump out coders and engineers and developers, or some version of those words and the images typing long into the night, maybe that scene from the social network, where everybody's like pounding beers and slamming keys. What is your definition of tech worker and of tech work?
Xiaowei Wang 8:57
I love that. That is like a very good marketing scheme on behalf of the tech industry where they're like, "yeah, there's, you know, fridge full of kombucha and you're just like hacking.
Baratunde Thurston 9:10
It's mostly snacks. Right?
Xiaowei Wang 9:12
Exactly. I think for us at Logic School, a tech worker can be someone who's doing community technology. So, instead of working for a big company, they're thinking about, like, what's the infrastructure or what's the projects that respond to the needs of their local neighborhood? It can be someone who's beyond the like, I'm so rational, I'm so logical image that we have, and really someone who has a lot of care and thoughtfulness. You know, I think all of these ideas of what a tech worker looks like that's highly-gendered, highly-racialized, and you know, has a lot to do with capitalism.
Baratunde Thurston 9:58
How does the school itself work?
Xiaowei Wang 10:00
We met every week over Zoom, had folks from Pittsburgh all the way to Texas and the Bay Area, and amazing guest lecturers come in, like the Free Radicals Stop LAPD Spying Coalition to Khadijah Abdurahman, who's working on child welfare in the New York City area. Yeah, just lots of dialogue and activities and feedback on each other's projects. I think one of the most important questions for us was, you know, who are your people? Who's your community? Who do you see yourself building tech for, right?
Baratunde Thurston 10:38
This sounds like the opposite of everything we've been taught about the tech sector as a workplace. I think a lot of us are like, it's very logical, it's inhumane. It's non-empathetic, its profit-seeking, its overworked. Questions about empathy and community and power, they're just not associated with tech generally. What was the impetus to create the Logic School in this way?
Xiaowei Wang 11:08
Baratunde Thurston 12:05
When you create this program, you invite these people in your meeting every week, what do you want them to leave with?
Xiaowei Wang 12:12
Honestly, I think that as part of rethinking what school is, I think everyone came in with a different goal, because that's also like very different than a job, right? A job is like, we create this space for you to do one thing, we have these expectations of how you do on your job, and you will be evaluated every quarter. We had one person who worked at Twitter, during the length of the president who I will not say his name, and had a lot of just personal all these, like traumas, and spent Logic School processing through that, and actually talking about trust and safety more broadly. We had another person who is actually building this incredible augmented-reality app now in Pittsburgh, and his whole app for his community to celebrate black life in Pittsburgh, and to really counter these narratives of disappearance and gentrification. So, it's a whole range of what people wanted out of it, but just trying to be like, hey, this could be a different tech.
Baratunde Thurston 13:27
That's why we're here. You know, I've been frustrated myself at the lack of imagination, and in some ways, I've said we've taken some of the most powerful machines that we've ever built, and some of the smartest people that we've ever had, and applied it to like shipping ads. It's a very underwhelming use of a superpower. I want to know more about you. You've been a tech worker.
Xiaowei Wang 13:51
Yeah, so there was this moment where I was working in tech, and it was 2016 and Trump got elected. Like all tech companies in the Bay Area at the time, you know, the CEO gives kind of a little speech about, like, "this terrible thing has happened and now we have to realize that what we do every day at our company is changing the world and improving the world, and we still have to do it and it's actually fighting against Trump and all of what this right-wingism is doing."
Baratunde Thurston 14:29
Got me all fired up and tingly inside. Yeah, okay. Braveheart speech, right?
Xiaowei Wang 14:34
Yeah. At the same time, I was sitting there and I was like, "but our company is funded by Jared Kushner's brother." All these threads of funding, it's every quarter the venture capitalists who fund the company, they come in and there's always this kind of standoff, right? They're like we need to see return, this is how you should change your business plan, this is how you should run your company. Then, it trickles down to us, like the engineers working day-to-day, it's like, "oh, that thing you were working on, actually, it doesn't matter anymore. We're pivoting to this new thing." So, just realizing, one, this kind of culture of not care, but really bottom line returns; and then two, the idea that we're doing something to better the world, to change the world, yet, you know, our work was really making other people rich, essentially, and not helping communities directly. That, I think, gave me a sense of disillusionment.
Baratunde Thurston 15:43
I'd love to know a bit more about your path, and I know you've written a book, whose title just makes me crack up every time I hear it: Blockchain Chicken Farm. What experiences did you have in tech that led you to rural China, to write a book called Blockchain Chicken Farm.
Xiaowei Wang 16:03
My friend, Jason, came up with that title, and I was just like, "so snappy." You know, there was also a lot of anti-China rhetoric at the time; there still continues to be, but just this idea that there's this foreign power battle of the civilizations stuff going on. I really wanted to, you know, question that idea that it's U.S. versus China, and China's this foreign place that's so different and scary. I think the approach I really wanted to take was to humanize, and to tell these stories on the ground of folks in rural China. It made sense to me, also, because we really ignore the rural. I mean, not just in the U.S., but also in China, where we paint these pictures in broad strokes of what countryside people are like, and then it's actually way more complicated. It connects to a global story too about agriculture, economics, all these big picture systems
Baratunde Thurston 17:13
Complicate China for me, with the sights, the smells, the sounds, the tastes that you experienced, that we miss out on when we overgeneralize.
Xiaowei Wang 17:23
I mean, I miss it so much, because I haven't been able to travel. So, I'm sorry, if I get nostalgic or emotional.
Baratunde Thurston 17:33
It's okay, I will open a circle for you to have these feelings.
Xiaowei Wang 17:41
In my time in rural China, there were villages that I would go to several times, twice a year, and it felt like a sense of returning home. Whenever you get to a village, it's this really beautiful thing where the first thing they ask is, "have you eaten yet?" There's just such a priority and value placed on food, especially for rural places where a lot of the times there might be famine, there might not be enough to eat. So, people present you with this bowl of rice and sometimes there's little dots on it in the rice because of insects that have eaten the rice. It just is this feeling of like, "oh, you're literally giving me food from your own grain store," and feeling really touched by that.
Baratunde Thurston 18:44
What misunderstandings do you think people like us have--us in the U.S. and the West in general--what misunderstandings do we have about tech in China?
Xiaowei Wang 18:54
I would say the biggest misunderstanding that I've seen, I mean, especially in relation to this anti-China stuff, is that China is there stealing everything, right? That there is absolutely zero freedom, that somehow the people of China are complicit in what its government does. When you're in rural China, which is still like 40% of the population, folks are just living day-to-day trying to get by, making money, harvesting their crops, thinking about their kids and their next generation, and how they're going to pay the school bills.
Baratunde Thurston 19:37
Sounds very relatable. Know what they sound like, Xiaowei? They sound like people.
Xiaowei Wang 19:43
Exactly. We've gotten to a point where it's hard to see beyond certain narratives.
Baratunde Thurston 19:53
We got to get to the title and in how your book landed on Blockchain Chicken Farm. The book is full stories of people from the rural parts of China. What's the story that led to this title?
Xiaowei Wang 20:06
Chinese economic development, it happened really fast in like the span of 20 - 30 years, so when you have growth that fast, things are gonna happen. The blockchain chickens really came out of this one small farmer in Gwijo province, where he was raising free range chickens and no one believed him that they were free range. There's such distrust.
Baratunde Thurston 20:30
So, he said, "I've got these free range chickens." They're like, "you're lying. Prove it."
Xiaowei Wang 20:35
So, he was like, "some county official came in was like, 'well, you should put these chickens on the blockchain.'"
Baratunde Thurston 20:41
Pause right there. That's just not a normal government response. You know? I can't imagine my DMV manager, or some FDA official here in the U.S. be like, "you should put this livestock on the blockchain." What does that even mean?
Xiaowei Wang 20:58
So, there's all these small tech companies in China who I think just won government contracts, and the one company offered this product that was like, you know, the blockchain is this ledger, so record-keeping system that can't change or falsify, right? So, you could say the chicken is 100% free range, then it got sent to this slaughterhouse, and it was slaughtered on XYZ date, and now it's at your doorstep. These chickens were heavily tracked, it was really wild.
Baratunde Thurston 21:34
That's like a giant chicken surveillance network.
Xiaowei Wang 21:39
Yes, there was actually a dashboard where you could watch the chickens through cameras.
Baratunde Thurston 21:47
This is weirdly distopic and hilarious, and progressive all at the same time.
Xiaowei Wang 21:54
I know, right? You could definitely see that Portlandia sketch where they're like this chicken has been massaged and here's a picture of it.
Here is the chicken you'll be enjoying tonight.
You have this information? This is fantastic.
Absolutely. His name was Collin.
Happy little guy!
Baratunde Thurston 22:10
So, farmer needs people to believe that his chickens are free range. County official's like "I know, we prove it with the blockchain. Put these chickens on the blockchain." Did it work? Did it help the farmer when he had this distributed certification through the blockchain ledger?
Xiaowei Wang 22:27
So, I will say that it really did work. He sold all of his chickens. The chickens each had this gnarly chicken Fitbit, like this bracelet.
Baratunde Thurston 22:41
Stop. You're killing me. So, they had a chickbit. Okay.
Xiaowei Wang 22:46
Yeah, and the tracker had a QR code, but when they slaughtered the chicken, they actually keep the tracker on, so you can buy the chicken online. So, when you get the chicken, it's like this dead chicken, but it still has this wrist thing attached to it. It's really a sight.
Baratunde Thurston 23:07
So, the chickens got a little chicken Apple Watch, you know, which is like tracking its health. Does the person who buys the chicken, do they read that little tracker themselves to kind of inspect it?
Xiaowei Wang 23:17
Yeah, they can scan the QR code and then read about it. So, there's like a picture of the chicken, how much the chicken weighed at birth, how many steps it took, because there's like a pedometer.
Baratunde Thurston 23:32
Oh, the chicken got it's 10,000 steps in. Let's eat! So, what you've just done is you've brought a Portlandia sketch to life.
Xiaowei Wang 23:43
The truth is stranger than fiction.
Baratunde Thurston 23:50
So this sounds like a victory. farmer gets people to believe his chickens are free range because he's got the blockchain proof, sells out of his chickens, and now is like the biggest farmer in rural China. What's how does this story proceed?
Xiaowei Wang 24:05
Um, sadly, I think that this is another one of those situations when we say like, we're building tech to, quote unquote, "improve people's lives." It's like, well, who for who, you know? Who do you count as your people and your community? This farmer was kind of abandoned by that tech company and for the next season, he's good at raising chickens and thinking about chicken life. He's not a programmer, and when I asked him, you know, how do you feel about blockchain? He was like, "what's blockchain?" Which, to be honest, is a question that I think most of us would ask, right? What's blockchain? There was really a sense that he became dependent on this very opaque product that he had no control over, and when they pivot, and when it becomes about profit and the bottom line, they had to move on to other projects.
Baratunde Thurston 25:05
How else have you seen tech companies exploiting folks in rural China?
Xiaowei Wang 25:09
I would say with the e-commerce villages, that was really fascinating because, you know, the tech companies, they say, "hey, we're providing livelihoods to the countryside. You know, now you can work from anywhere and manufacture Halloween costumes or, you know, wooden block toys for Taobao."
Baratunde Thurston 25:33
It sounds great. I mean, it really does. You can work from home. Where have I heard this before? Continue.
Xiaowei Wang 25:41
Work From Home is gonna be the mantra of our century. Yeah, so these folks, they would be, you know, basically making Halloween costumes out of their home workshops. I saw old people, like their grandparents and great aunts, helping with the manufacturing, and the packaging and the shipping. So, it was really a family business, or some people might call it family self-exploitation.
Baratunde Thurston 26:15
Family business or family sweatshop?
Xiaowei Wang 26:17
Baratunde Thurston 26:19
Xiaowei Wang 26:20
There was definitely this like rosy scene that the official government line was trying to paint, like this is poverty alleviation, it's giving people digital-literacy skills, but then when I actually started talking to some folks, they're like, "this is a scam and we know it, and we're just trying to get it while it's good and make money while we can." So, they were saying that the sellers, if you're selling on the platform, you have to pay fees, you have to buy ads, it's like a race to the bottom to try and cut costs. You're just making cheaper and cheaper items that are really flimsy, that are like you use it once and it falls apart, but they're like, "this is just all part of the game, and in a few years, this might not work, but we're gonna get rich while we can." So, it was interesting to see just, again, this reliance on a platform and how much control that ecommerce platforms had over sellers.
Baratunde Thurston 27:24
We have the same story in the United States and other Western countries. We've talked about on this podcast about Amazon, it's mostly in the U.S. and how this race to the bottom. So, the idea that the same story's playing out on the literal other side of the world in communities we don't identify with, because we don't take time to know about them, is really upsetting and not that surprising when I pause to think about it.
Xiaowei Wang 27:54
I will say, I also saw other small villages that were enacting totally ambitious projects. For example, I visited this rice farming village, Rice Harmony.
Baratunde Thurston 28:11
That already sounds great. Rice Harmony, I like that.
Xiaowei Wang 28:14
Yeah, yeah, that's definitely their vibe, you know, very community-oriented, and they were really trying to push against top-down initiatives and reliance on whether it's one technology or one government policy. Yeah, so this other way is definitely a little bit more difficult.
Baratunde Thurston 28:39
After the break, we go to Rice Harmony village.
So, Xiaowei, tell me about the Rice Harmony village project, and what about it is so different?
Xiaowei Wang 28:53
So, rice farming is, in this region, it's terraced, so each farmer has their own little patty, and the water flows from the top to the bottom. It's this kind of natural irrigation, so for a long time, they were using high scale-up, high-yield tactics, like pesticides and fertilizers, and really, quote unquote, "modern agriculture." They were noticing that, you know, there was a decline in their soil, decline in their crops and the nutrition content of the rice, so they started to do this lottery system where you wouldn't have contiguous patties, so you might have one patty at the top, you might have one patty at the bottom, have a different neighbor every five years. So, as a result of this, you are really materially interconnected to others. If you spray pesticides or dam off water, you're gonna affect your neighbors, but you also might be affecting yourself, and it's through this system that they decided to do organic regenerative farming, which does not really quote unquote, "scale up," right? It's all about thinking about scale across time and different generations, and the soil, you know, 20 years from now, rather than "how are we gonna make as much rice as possible this next year?"
Baratunde Thurston 30:21
Yeah. Why were they using the pesticides in the first place?
Xiaowei Wang 30:25
It was really about yield, right? It's just this form of having granular control over your yield.
Baratunde Thurston 30:35
I see what you did there. Granular control. Yes, nice word play.
Xiaowei Wang 30:38
I'm glad you appreciate that.
Baratunde Thurston 30:41
The lottery system sounds like a super creative way to engineer, community and interconnectedness, because if I'm just looking out for myself, I only care about the runoff, but if my lots are no longer contiguous, then my interest is in the runoff too. So, I'm forced to care about my neighbor; basically, I am my neighbor. That's kind of mind blowing. How did they come up with that system?
Xiaowei Wang 31:11
It was a really beautiful system, and when they were telling me about it, I didn't expect it to go there, but they were saying that, for a long time, it really came out of their practices of helping each other harvest every year. It was always like, "oh, my family's harvesting the rice and my patty, but also the neighbors are helping too, and we're just all sharing everything, we're sharing equipment, we're sharing labor, we're helping each other out," so the patty lottery system really stemmed out of that this kind of longer community practice. They made it very clear to me that it was not easy. They had showed me photos, and they'd be like, "yeah, that guy, he always, you know, we have meetings to talk about this system, and the lottery and who's doing what, and that guy's always stirring up trouble; and that lady, she's never satisfied; and our community meetings, they take like hours and no one likes going to them, but we all show up."
Baratunde Thurston 31:11
You know, it's scale interpreted differently. Small scale on purpose. A lot of us have just accepted what's delivered to us by the massive commercial interests, but in your Rice Harmony village example, they developed their own tools, their own lower tech which suited their needs.
Xiaowei Wang 32:32
Honestly, we need to question the tools that we are given and really push our imaginations. We've used the most incredible tech to now sell ads, and I think just thinking about what we're doing with these tools, through the span of time and not just the immediate one year, five year return, that's really key.
Baratunde Thurston 32:56
How did your experiences in rural China shape your views of tech, and of tech work, and tech organizing? You seem to believe something a little differently on the other side of that experience than you did before.
Xiaowei Wang 33:11
In seeing places like Rice Harmony, where the conversations are difficult, they take hours, there's a kind of patience. The villagers would be telling me like, "oh, yeah, sometimes we get into fights, and we let it simmer and we pick it up the next day." I think it really countered my approach to organizing, as well, where it's like, let things be unresolved. Don't push the conversation. Take time, take patience. Move at the speed of trust and care, rather than "I need to get these 10 signups for the union," right? Also, you know, seeing places like Rice Harmony, the act of talking to people and just being with them, that's the work, right? That's the transformation. Whatever happens, whether you win or lose the campaign, it's really about just creating that kind of relation that is powerful.
Baratunde Thurston 34:13
Yeah, instead of move fast and break things, move slower and build things like trust, like relationships. The STEM brain of science, tech, engineering, math, I think there's a little bit of a stereotype to it in the same way that we have some stereotypes about rural China, but there is a pressure out of so many of these products that most of us use for efficiency. It's how do I avoid discomfort? We pay for it in some way or the other, it may feel fast or more efficient, but there's a cost on the back end. Like you said, move at the speed of trust. There's something else to be gained by that. That's so powerful, thank you.
Xiaowei Wang 34:57
I love your framing of it as this avoidance of discomfort. It speaks to really power too, right? Who gets to decide this is the new experience that everyone in the world should have?
Baratunde Thurston 35:12
So, how does your work at the largest pool address some of the types of exploitation you were seeing firsthand in rural China?
Xiaowei Wang 35:20
Yeah, so in a few ways, I feel like there's one thread of Logic School, which is about what are the ways that we can change industry from the inside? So, there are folks at Amazon, like Amazonians for Climate Justice, people who are organizing and trying to really think about these things, right? It's like, "no, we're gonna build tech that is different," so it's more of the Rice Harmony stance, where it's like, "well, forget about everything else, we're just gonna go our own way." I think both approaches are urgent and much needed right now, right? Logic School, it's really about cultivating, nurturing, and thinking through these different threads, and also supporting folks who are doing this on the ground right now.
Baratunde Thurston 36:15
I'm really glad that your answer to "should we reform from within or build something new out?" is "both." So, let's push your imagination. You've done your first cohort with Logic School, you've had your inaugural class... What comes next? What's your vision for where this school goes and this experience goes?
Xiaowei Wang 36:39
I feel like out of the first cohort of Logic School, seeing people organize, do these incredible projects, it's like, how can we continue to support the first cohort but also future cohorts on doing these projects that they do want to carry out in the world, so that they're not like, "can I quit my tech job and pursue what I'm actually passionate about, and is meaningful and impactful?" I think there needs to be a huge amount of culture shift, and I think that is happening. Whenever I talk to new grads from computer science programs, I'm like, "wow, you are so aware, you are so thoughtful, you know more about radical history tha some professors I've spoken to. Yes, I love that." So, I guess in that sense, I feel optimistic about the culture shifts that are coming, then regulation of what we currently are facing in the U.S., at least.
Baratunde Thurston 37:42
Is there a place in those two, or maybe something you haven't identified--the regulation, the culture shift--what is Logic School's role in getting us there?
Xiaowei Wang 37:54
I feel like it's definitely in the culture shift area, but I also think creating these open expansive spaces for folks to dream about a better tech industry or better tech, that is, to me, really urgent because we don't have a lot of spaces to do that, right? Even if you do like a startup incubator, where you're gonna build better tech, what's the bottom line? What's your pitch deck? Logic School is really about creating that expansive space and to dream, to rest--we really care about rest at Logic School--to have that fire going for reflection.
Baratunde Thurston 38:44
Fire for reflection, it's the anti-hustle propaganda and in a great spirit of a new type of energy that I would also love to see. We call the show How to Citizen. Citizen is a verb to us, not a legal status to be weaponized against certain communities. When you interpret this word as a verb, what does it mean to you to citizen?
Xiaowei Wang 39:13
It's about showing up. It's about really showing up. I think it also requires a degree of listening, you know, and compassion, right? So, I think of this, like, listen to understand the ways that you're sharing space, the ways that your decisions affect, and inform, and change conditions for others. So, I think we use the word show up like really casually, but to do it and to really citizen, that's difficult, right?
Baratunde Thurston 39:45
I want you to picture a motivated, fired-up person ready to show up and they're like, "oh, Blockchain, chickens, rice living in harmony, tech workers with empathy... Put me in, coach. What can I do?"
Xiaowei Wang 39:58
You know, there's this great phrase from Buddhism, "clean the temple so that you can actually sit." Get yourself, and your home, and your family, and where you're coming from right, before you're gonna go to the temple and talk to other people now. So, I feel like that's been my work for a few years, it's just like cleaning the temple. Then, from there, if there's an organization that you want to be organizing with, email them, show up and listen, and be patient and be willing to have the difficult conversations. Very lastly, have empathy. I have noticed that, sometimes even in communities where we're trying to organize or do different initiatives, and we feel like we're bettering the world in some way, it can be really easy to be like, "we just want to win." We can't trample over people's feelings. Having a live-joy, you know, take-care-of-each-other movement. I think at the heart of it, that's the work.
Baratunde Thurston 41:05
I'm so happy to hear that. The industry--capital T, capital I--the tech industry has done a really good job of selling a narrative of what tech is and who a tech worker is, and what he most likely looks like, then the media amplifies that. So, the public mind around what tech even is is very narrowly oriented, so if we can contribute to shifting that mindset, expanding that imagination, we'll be better off and we're certainly better off for having spoken with you. So, thank you so much, Xiaowei Wang: tarot reader, philosopher, professor, activist, organizer, Blockchain chicken farmer advocate. Keepin' it real, appreciate you.
Xiaowei Wang 41:51
Thank you, Baratunde. I appreciate you. Thank you for having me.
Baratunde Thurston 42:03
By now, we're all well aware that technology can and often is used to take advantage of people, but it can also help us to connect, to empathize with one another, to strengthen the bonds of trust and transparency that we so deeply crave in our communities. To accomplish that, bigger ain't always better. I would argue, in fact, that it's rarely better. Xiaowei is redefining what it means to be a tech worker, that the world of tech doesn't have to be all hoodies and energy drinks; that it can be like a Tarot reading, a place that opens up a space to listen to others and to hold up a mirror to ourselves, because, the truth is, the world is just one big Rice Harmony village and what we do in our communities trickles down to impact others. Whether those impacts are good or bad, that's up to us and the way we choose to use tech; it can isolate or it can unite. When the ever-evolving world of technology tells us to move fast and break things, we've got to be the ones to slow down and listen, to show up, to step back and open the circle.
Next time, for our final episode, we're asking an important question. How do we bridge the digital divide so that everyone considers it?
Teresa Hodge 43:53
I'll be honest with you, I was so overwhelmed because I did not have that level of connection to technology, and just the phone ringing, and trying to text, and people calling, and pictures popping up, and I felt some anxiety and I didn't expect that.
Baratunde Thurston 44:12
Now, it's time for some actions. No Tarot reading required. A lot of what you're about to hear comes directly from Xiaowei, so extra appreciation to them for giving me things to give you to do. The first is an internal reflection. Think of what consent and care means to you, and think of what consentful and careful tech would look like, would function like, would feel like. What relationships would be strengthened by that kind of tech? What might be shattered? Next, let's get informed about tech critiques and some better ways of doing things with tech. Read about platform co-ops, we have a link to a great explainer in the show notes. These are digital platforms, think of like a ride share or delivery service, but they're collectively owned and governed by the people who depend on and participate in them, not just a handful of investors looking to turn their one million into ten million. Also, follow the work of the Gig Workers' Collective. This is a group that shines a light on and advocates for people who work at the other end of our smartphone taps and swipes. It really humanizes their experience, and most of us don't work in that part of the economy, but we all engage with it. So, let's have more information about the impact of that engagement. Speaking of engagement, here's some ways to step it up a notch and publicly participate. Support community internet and technology groups. These are organizations like the Detroit Community Technology Project, NYC Mesh, Oakland Mesh; they provide local internet access, tech training and tools by and for the people. It's like democratic technology. Check out this one, the Tech Worker Handbook by Ifeoma Ozoma. This is a collection of resources to better prepare and support tech workers who are considering whether they should speak out on issues that are in the public interest, like should they whistle blow. So, recommend this to a tech worker near you, but please do them and our general freedom a favor, don't send it to their work email. Let's be smart about that. Now, look, we've got links to all this and more at howtocitizen.com and in the episode show notes. As usual, check us out on Instagram @howtocitizen, tag us in your posts about this episode. How did Xiaowei make you feel? Do you want them to do your Tarot? Hashtag #howtocitizen and let us know how this one hit you. Stay tuned and keep citizening. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of iHeartRadio Podcasts and Dustlight Productions. Our executive producers are me, Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Euceph. Our senior producer is Tamika Adams, our producer is Alie Kilts, and our assistant producer is Sam Paulson. Stephanie Cohn is our editor, Valentino Rivera is our senior engineer, and Matthew Lai is our apprentice. Original music by Andrew Eapen, with additional original music for season 3 from Andrew Clausen. Additional production help from Arwen Nicks. This episode was produced and sound designed by Matthew Lai. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeartRadio and Rachael Garcia at Dustlight Productions.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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