I wish I could just answer that question in one word and leave it at that without further qualification. But recent developments in San Francisco have painted the tech community in a sour light. We are evidently responsible for the complete disintegration of communities and the oncoming robot apocalypse. Or, as the Luddites would have you believe. Just so we’re clear, a Luddite is someone who thinks technology is something to be feared and suspicious of.
They lack the basic understanding that technology serves as the fundamental basis of all of humanity’s progress: the wheel, the spear, paper, pencils, shoes, steam power, gunpowder, the printing press, silverware, everything that occurred during the Industrial Revolution all the way to the Digital Age. Anything having to do with progress has depended on technology in some form or other. To call the rapid advent of newer and newer technologies evil, is far too simple and pedestrian. Let’s be clear, technology does not destroy communities. People do.
The disintegration of communities is commonly caused by people who hold themselves in too high esteem, that they are the chosen few to rule the underprivileged. They lack the fundamentals of compassion and kindness, and tend to think only of themselves. They blame those around them for not being able to keep up and believe in the fallacy of the self-made individual. They treat their communities as a giant playground without understanding how to properly tend the playground into a garden.
To be certain, there are those in the tech community who act like this. They tend to be the vapid ones, intent on showing the world how important they are. It is true: We have fostered the cult of the startup here in Silicon Valley. And, yes, there is a lot of garbage that is created. However, there are a majority of us technologists that deeply disagree with all of this, and see ourselves as part of a greater community. We seek to apply innovation and technology towards the greater good, towards solving deeply embedded social issues.
My team at Diginido Labs LLC is a team of four technologists and entrepreneurs committed to applying technology towards helping to solve issues such as homelessness, human trafficking, economic and digital freedom, and worker’s rights. We spend a great deal of time applying human centric and empathy design philosophies to engage all stakeholders in communities towards developing good tech.
For the past year and a half we have spent a great deal of time working with homeless people and low-income communities to come up with a unique way to share up to date resources. The issue of homelessness is poignant for us, as two of our co-founders have experienced homelessness first hand. We know that managing daily crises and finding the right resources can be incredibly difficult.
It is especially so when resource directories aren’t kept up to date and it’s a scramble to find the right services. A friend of ours who stays in shelters told us a story of how during the storm El Niño, he heard of a pop-up shelter, but there was no clear directory that it was listed in. It took him two days of walking around in the rain to find it, and when he finally did, there was no way for him to share the location in order to help others. This is all too common a story and fundamentally unacceptable.
We found this issue patently ridiculous and set out to come up with a solution. Our first attempt was to consolidate all online resources down to one Android app. We chose an Android app as the vehicle because we found that, contrary to common belief, most of the homeless own Android phones through the Obama phone program, which provides low-income and homeless people free cell phones, voice minutes, and texting. We created the see|me app and initially, it was a minor success. We were able to help the homeless community rapidly search for resources in one place. However, we found a deeper problem and that was the fact that most directories we were pulling these resources from were incredibly out of date. We pivoted and set out to solve the bigger issue of being able to provide up to date resources.
What we came up with was the Labre app.
The Labre app is a place for the community to share real-time knowledge of resources available in their city. All too often, resource directories fall out of use and up-to-date information becomes hard to come by. Time and energy is wasted trying to find the most useful information. You no longer have to depend on organizations to update resource directories. YOU can share your knowledge and help keep information about resources up-to-date. This isn’t just for basic city services. You can share things like places with free wifi, accessible power outlets, places that allow you to use the bathroom in peace, report on the efficacy and safety of shelters, and more.
We will soon be adding a new feature that tells the community about real-time food availability. We have partnered with a wonderful organization, FoodRev, which does bi-weekly food drives. They pick up the extra food that organizations don’t use and their volunteers deliver them to shelters. Through Labre, they will be able to communicate to the community in real time when food is available!
We at Diginido Labs believe that everyone deserves respect, dignity, and the freedom to self-manage their lives. The Labre app is designed with accessibility in mind and has been built by listening to the community. We believe everyone deserves beautiful design and experience, regardless of your place in society.
The Labre app is available now through the Google Play store and we are working on a iOS version.
We hope that more startups and organizations will join us in working on solutions to critical social issues that will help heal the community. It will take a concerted effort by the tech community to gain a better social understanding of these entrenched issues by listening to and working alongside all stakeholders within the community. It is not a matter of designing solutions FOR. It is a matter of designing solutions WITH.