Bridget Todd: “Prince was the OG tech critic in my opinion, so let’s start there. Prince was known for using technology in his music in innovative ways and he was also behind initiatives to bring tech to underrepresented communities. So he valued technology, but this was also grounded in criticism and truth telling about the harms it could present. He presents a model for how believing in the possibility of technology goes hand in hand with being honest about the way it can be used to harm.”
“Technology is cool, but you've got to use it as opposed to letting it use you.” –Prince
For me, music and technology have always gone hand in hand. When I was a kid, I would spend hours running my fingers over the smooth cases of my dad’s records, trying to unlock whatever secrets were hidden within their colorful sleeves. And the music that spoke to me the most—Earth, Wind & Fire, Funkadelic, Prince—all connected back to Black folks, technology, and the future.
It may sound optimistic, but for me, technology has always been about the promise of a future better than the one we have now. But getting us there also involves contending with the ways technology has harmed our communities. And the ways people who spoke up about it have been silenced, ignored, or punished for doing the difficult work of trying to make things better. In that way, critics of Big Tech are like tech alchemists, looking at the way things are and asking: “Why can’t they be better?”
When we make room for the folks who are risking everything to push for safer, better technology, we’re also making room for the possibility and promise that technology can be a means to get us closer to collective liberation.
On my podcast There Are No Girls on the Internet, I’ve spent the last two years telling these stories. And as the host of this season of IRL, I’m helping to bring Mozilla’s annual Internet Health Report to (audio) life, speaking with people grappling with how to make sure technology—AI in this instance—is being used to help, not harm, our real-life communities. As we consider those voices and experiences over these next five episodes, I’ve brought together some content that helped clarify my own understanding of what it looks like to reckon with that harm on our route to a brighter future. –Bridget Todd
BT: “As the first episode of IRL demonstrates, technology that is used to harm will always have a disproportionate impact on communities of color—something that is unfortunately the case all around the world. In the United States, the first person to be killed using an armed police robot was Micah Xavier Johnson. This happened at an especially chaotic time in the country and I am not sure we had a real reckoning around what this event might have ushered in regarding the use of killer robot technology.”
BT: “The first episode of IRL talks about whistleblowers and tech workers who spoke out against the technology being developed by big tech companies. When discussing this topic, it’s important not to forget that speaking truth to power comes with great personal and professional risks and costs.”
BT: “Yeshi Milner of Data for Black Lives is one of those visionaries who is looking at data and technology and imagining it being used to actually support communities of color, rather than harm. What would it look like if voices like hers were centered in technology?”
BT: “Tech workers are a great resource for making meaningful change because they have the kind of visibility no one from the outside could ever have. I’m hopeful we’ll see more and more tech workers organizing to make meaningful change when it comes to Big Tech.”
BT: “I hate that when we think about technology, we’re so often talking about tech that is being used to harm. To me, it leaves less room for conversations about possibility. What would it be like to center hopeful reinterpretations of technology and the future?”
Bridget Todd is the host of this season of Mozilla’s IRL, as well as her own critically-acclaimed podcast, There Are No Girls On The Internet, where she explores how marginalized people show up online in response to the lack of inclusion in conversations around the internet.
As Director of Communication for the national gender-justice advocacy organization UltraViolet, Bridget regularly meets with leadership from platforms like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok to advocate for and develop policy recommendations to make digital experiences safer and more inclusive. Bridget’s writing and work on technology, race, gender, and culture have been featured in The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Nation, The Daily Show, and several other outlets. She got her start teaching courses on writing and social change at Howard University.