Last month I attended SHA2017, and ever since then I’ve been consumed with how to be a part of that energy, those connections, and that potential here in Australia.
What was SHA2017? It’s a hacker festival in The Netherlands — think music festival without the noise and alcohol, think magical technology festival in the forest, think minds from across the globe that care about freedom, free speech, the promise and possibility of technology to connect and change the world. Think people that don’t just talk, they make, build and do. This last point is critical: talk as they say, is cheap.
SHA was my first time overseas, and Europe was magical. It’s the first time I’ve appreciated how interconnected Europe is. Without the tyranny of distance things seem achievable and infinitely possible. Back here in Australia with our timezones and remoteness, it feels different. Except it shouldn’t, things are not that far and we are connected. Does it feel like that in Asia? I’d like to find out.
On the journey to maintain momentum and continue in a world I’m now both connected and drawn to I’ve been looking for opportunities. One of those has been to nominate for the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) board.
As a disclaimer: I’m still waiting to see past meeting minutes to get a better feel for specifically what they do. Unfortunately they are not on their website, and the website doesn’t reflect all of the work that EFA do. Working with not for profit and member organisations in web development for nine years this absence of information doesn’t surprise me. However, in my experience, lamenting low new member numbers and poor volunteer contribution doesn’t gel if your website doesn’t reflect how active you are. It’s no good being amazing if no one outside your circle knows.
I am excited by the potential of EFA and have chosen to nominate for the board for a number of reasons:
The collective knowledge and wisdom at SHA really struck me. These are the people that built the internet. Literally. I want to connect with the people that viewed this evolution within an Australian lens, because we see things clearly and globally.
Problems that have been well known have now come to pass.
Digital rights, privacy, censorship: these issues are hitting the mainstream. Through groups like EFA, conversations identifying issues and promulgation of strategies to mitigate and respond have been well discussed and thought through.
Collective experience matters.
Strong, authoritative voices matter.
Experience over the last nine months with #notmydebt has really hit home how disconnected politics and policy still is from technology. Organisations like EFA have a responsibility to clearly and transparently guide conversations to ensure facts, rights, and practicality ensues.
Technology cannot be a political pawn.
Yet it is becoming one. Technology not only provides ways to save money, it also adds a barrier between Government and society. The Turnbull Government's proposal to break encryption feeds off of the community’s misunderstandings about technology and the over-simplification of the basic tools civil society runs on.
Unfettered, the Government can say what they want, how is the public to know any different? In these cases groups like EFA need to respond clearly, simply, and concisely. These responses may not provide the entire picture, but they are needed to start the conversation and the education process within the wider community.
The time has come where privacy, digital rights, and integrity of algorithms has become mainstream.
Groups like EFA must move quickly beyond a sub culture of techs concerned about the future, to leaders with the ability to effectively connect with and educate everyone else.
The media, community and politicians are clueless about technology.
Literally clueless. I watched it as #NotMyDebt first unfolded, as media outlets struggled to articulate the technology issues and pinpoint the problems, making them ineffectual for holding the Government to account. This is not okay. Yet, as the subsequent trajectory of the #notmydebt case illustrates, small amounts of knowledge and exposure, communicated well, can rapidly break down walls.
My primary concern with EFA is: can they respond and adapt fast enough?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know anyone on the board or within the organisation; I only know what they do from their website, bits in the media, and networks. Being the only woman to nominate out of ten candidates is disappointing, as a lack of diversity is always a red flag for me.
The challenges presented by a need to change and adapt to meet community expectations at an advancing pace isn’t a unique issue faced by the EFA by any means; in all sectors we are seeing the fallout as peak bodies needing to act as a voice for citizens and organisations struggle under the weight of a rapidly evolving technological, political and social climate.
People are becoming disengaged and disenfranchised, membership levels are falling and apathy is rising — and my opinion is… tough luck. We saw all this coming, we knew we had to evolve, but now it’s here and we must respond or become obsolete.
Change will take fresh ideas, new energy, expanded networks, and greater accountability and transparency.
Is that where the EFA is headed? No idea yet but I’m looking forward to finding out.