Technology and Belonging: Key Learnings

June 4, 2021–By Shaily Acharya

How can we reimagine systems and institutions so that they no longer facilitate oppression, injustice, or harm? To start it is critical for us, as individuals, to question our role in maintaining the status quo. How do these systems function through our interior lives, identities, and emotions? How should we interrogate the self and the roles our varied identities play in our study and use of technology?  These are the questions the Beeck Center sought to answer in Technology + Belonging, a 6-week seminar series we hosted in March and April 2021.. 

Technology + Belonging was a space for students, working professionals, and others who were interested in analyzing the role of technology in creating a sense of belonging. These individuals came together to critically examine the oppressive structures that technology upholds and creatively ideate on how to dismantle them. Themes included the intersections of technology and gender, race, indigeneity, and disability. To guide the discussion we shared multimedia resources each week, along with individual and pair reflection prompts,and as a result the weekly, hour-long discussion sessions were enriching and thought-provoking. Below are three key takeaways we learned from planning and executing Technology + Belonging

1. Lean into uncertainty. 

As facilitators of this reflection space, we emphasized from the beginning that we were by no means experts on the topics that we set out to discuss. Our goal was to create a space where the facilitators and participants could learn together and from each other. Because of this, our discussions became spaces for collaborative learning and thoughtful reflection rather than a one-sided lecture that is commonplace in virtual seminars.

The participants also leaned into the unknown throughout the six weeks. Before the first session, most participants had indicated that they were most unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the themes surrounding Technology + Indigeneity, which interrogated forms of digital colonialism and what it means to give #LandBack in cyberspace. Coincidentally (or not), in a survey sent out after the last session, a good number of participants indicated that they had actually learned the most from and gotten the most out of the session focused on Technology + Indigeneity. This outcome shows that when one is open to uncertainty, instead of shying away from it, it can result in a much more impactful learning experience. 

2. Make mistakes, and learn from them.

Following the theme of uncertainty, we also aimed to convey to the participants that making mistakes in deep, identity-centered conversations was only natural. It is unrealistic to assume that everyone was aware of the appropriate language necessary to have a seamless conversation about the topics discussed. Everyone was coming from a different background and foundation in discussing identity theory. For this reason, we brought on a co-facilitator with academic expertise and lived experience in a particular identity set to help us co-create each session so that it was grounded in understanding the histories and theory of a specific identity set. This allowed us to ensure we could collectively name and correct negative biases and harmful assumptions in personal and group settings. 

3. Recognize intersectionality.

It is essential to recognize that while each session centered on a specific identity and its relationship with technology, we don’t think this is how identities should be analyzed in our daily lives. The identities that we all hold are not distinct and separate—rather, they all build on each other. Our first guest co-facilitator, Dr. Michelle Ohnona, said it best: instead of thinking about identities like woman, South Asian, and young adult, one should reshape the language to reflect on being a woman in the phenomena of being South Asian in the phenomena of being a young adult. By the time we reached the last session, Technology + Liberation, it became increasingly clear that liberation from cycles of oppression requires recognizing the overlap between our different individual identities that are so often siloed. 

At the conclusion of Technology + Belonging, we were left with more questions than answers. We were left wondering, “What’s next?” How can we continue the individual learning and unlearning process that is so crucial to systems change? Many participants said they plan to use our website to host their own versions of Technology + Belonging with their family, friends, and coworkers. We encourage anyone, whether you are a student or a working professional, to make the space to deeply reflect on the opportunity that technology presents to bring us together as a people and create a world in which systemic oppression is a thing of the past. 

Shaily Acharya is a sophomore in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a student analyst at the Beeck Center who worked to develop and facilitate the Tech + Belonging seminar series. Connect with her on LinkedIn.