A Small Technology Consideration for Canada

Burying Social Responsibility in Complexity and Technical Proficiency

I go up and down with my ability or capacity to talk, think, or write about the pandemic. They all feel futile. They are also compulsive. Daily acts of friendship and care go further. This is my preface and admission that what follows is done in haste and also done because it feels wrong not to.

Second paragraph. Here I would usually try to wrap my point in velvet. What follows is not an attack or a judgement of colleagues and friends and institutions — it’s a small consideration that I’d prefer we try to carry together. As the pandemic stretches on, I have to constantly shove the anger I feel for how this response should have looked, in a place of this size with this much wealth, to what it has been. So this is a small thought on one part of what the response has been, and what to do with it now — specifically, the exposure notification app.

I want to offer a suggestion for those involved in any way in talking about the exposure notification app being used in Canada. Download the app. Use it. I’m not here to talk about the technology, I’m here to talk about technology as political narrative. If you talk in public about the app or celebrate it I do encourage you to practice your capacity to talk about the people it has done nothing for. The people that can’t use it. The people that would never use it because of history and trust.

I’m asking you to make sure that when you talk about the app, you remember the people that needed — and still need — thoughtful protection and support and aren’t getting it. To take the moment to make sure they are not erased, again. If all the program and safety supports that are not technology were in place in Canada I would not be writing this post. I would have nothing to say about the app at this moment in time. But until that is done, the app can serve as a handle to grab to point attention back to where it belongs. To the people that are being asked to do things that are unsafe to survive.

And I can hear you thinking “no one said the app was a silver bullet, it’s one part of a bigger strategy, look at this teacher that found out about exposure…”. All true. All missing the point. Every time people boost this app without talking about it in the wider public health context we all get more confused about what’s really happening.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do everything we possibly can, we should. The app is not a zero. But it’s small in the realm of something that is large and vicious and — this is where the rage comes in — preventable. I’m asking my colleagues in the technology community to figure out how to use the app to talk about the bigger political errors and issues with our response. That’s all.

If you can’t do that, perhaps consider it an error of omission. Which is often how the status quo hardens. Not by what is done (the app) but by what is not done (the expansive supports that would end this). This is a challenging conversation to have. It’s about how what might seem like a marginally good thing can also — at the same time— uphold or justify a more broadly problematic approach. Holding two truths at once. Something we’re never good at. If you can’t talk about both or don’t think you have to, that’s fine too. I’m offering this as a consideration, nothing more.

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