From City Councils to Conscious Coding: Embedding values into software

On the dawn of COVID19 there was a whole rush for building up the next generation of solutions, Alex Bordanova our CTO at Domestic Data Streamers wanted to push for a specific solution for municipalities, they had the urgent need to make city council meetings public in streaming with enough security guarantees for the votings. So we thought we could make a sprint to develop a software to cover that specific need. That software would be called AgoraViva and soon was transformed into an experiment in how to bring back soul and values to a piece of software.

We are surrounded and overflown by tech, that’s it, it’s a vital component of who we are today in most societies, it builds the way we learn, connect, consume and communicate, and there is developed software to cover almost any of our potential great or not so great needs (or literally nothing), still most of the mainstream used technology today is purely designed to solve not what people need but what people want. And that’s not necessarily good, as we have learned from history, many people are easily manipulated into wanting things they don’t actually want (see Century of the self by journalist Adam Curtis) taking a fragment of Mark Manson’s book “Everything is Fucked”:

I’ve noticed it always takes the same form, no matter whom it comes from. It says: We’re just giving people what they want!

Whether it’s oil companies or creepy advertisers or Facebook stealing your damn data, every corporation that steps in some shit scrapes off their boot by frantically reminding everyone how they’re just trying to give people what they want — faster download speeds, more comfortable air-conditioning, better gas mileage, a cheaper nose hair trimmer- and how wrong can that be?

And it is true. Technology gives people what they want faster and more efficiently than ever before. And while we all love to dogpile on the corporate overlords for their ethical faceplants, we forget that they are merely fulfilling people’s desires.

Now, I want a life-size bag of marshmallows in my living room. I want to buy an eight-million-euro mansion by borrowing money. I can never payback. I want to fly to a new beach every week for the next year and live on nothing but Wagyu steaks. What I want is fucking terrible. Therefore, I would say that “give the people what they want” is a pretty low bar to clear, ethically speaking. “Give the people what they want” works only when you are giving them innovations like a synthetic kidney or something to prevent their car from spontaneously catching on fire.

So having that in mind we created a platform to solve problems but at the same time to experiment with how we could embed a functional piece of software values like equality, honesty and thoughtfulness to change the way we communicate between us.

AgoraViva is a software with the most of the same capabilities of Google Meet, Skype, Zoom, or any video call application BUT with features specifically designed to bring honesty and transparency to the way we talk and communicate.

One of the first features we are releasing in the platform is the gender equality tracker, where we visualize percentually the amount of time that people in each meeting is using to face one of the challenges that more than half of the world’s population is having (check out the concept of manterrupting).

In the following month, we will release an open list of value features that we want to integrate into the platform for everyone to participate in.

A lack of commitment to values in technology will always bring society to superficiality and at some point, a lack of human empathy, check out your Facebook wall, you will find a picture of your friends barbecue, then a tragic story about an earthquake somewhere in the world and finally a video of a cat jumping from a window. All of these at the same hierarchical level, by being all continuously exposed to this designs, we begin to subconsciously think that all these things are equally important and that we are merely spectators of these realities, that we can only Like, Share or Comment things, there is no button to Do something. But the sad truth is that it is not, a barbecue is not the same as a natural disaster affecting the lives of millions. And like, share or comment should not be the answer most of the time and we should point that out every time for the sake of humanity.

Technology should not only be designed to improve our lives from a purely superficial point of view but from a deep and humane perspective. And our belief is that we should go for the one that in this time of polarization and misinformation can create empathy because it will be in a world of empathy that we will be able to truly connect ones to the others.

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