Collision 2018 is one of North America’s biggest tech conferences with more than 20,000 attendees and over 5000 companies represented from across the globe. This rapidly growing event features startups seeking funding, closely followed by investors looking to make “the next great thing” become a reality, and also established businesses showcasing their latest products and services. Speakers ranged from activists to CEOs to politicians discussing a diverse array of tech-related topics, and there were all kinds of areas represented from health to automation to education. While I was excited to attend and surprised at the intensity of the groups involved, I noticed something significant was missing.
Where was the tech benefitting those who need it most?
Being exposed to the tech scene in this light exposed the abundance of wealth that startups are creating in the middle and upper classes. There was little to see at the conference that showcased how we improving the lives of those in need – from low-income earners to underdeveloped parts of the world. Yet there was strong representation of developing technologies that make life just a little bit easier for the upper middle class – and plenty of VCs around to fund those endeavors – because after all, that’s where the potential revenue is. But that shouldn’t be an excuse – especially given the staggering poverty rate in New Orleans where Collision 2018 was held.
We had the opportunity to meet with VCs and industry leaders at a VIP dinner. One conversation that transpired was over the acquisition of Bitmoji by Snapchat for $100M for Snapchat users to be able to incorporate their personal avatars in their Snaps. With some of the most creative techies, entrepreneurs, and investors in the room, the big deal was that millennials can now snap cartoons of themselves to each other. Aren’t we better than this? Is this really where our best minds and money should be going? I want to see work being done to improve healthcare, housing, debt management, and access to healthy food.
Tech funding is not investment banking – but it’s closer than we think
It is not to say that all tech companies are after money over improving lives, but this conference showed me and made me consider that we’re still pushing money around at the top. There’s a direct concern for those who can afford technology versus those who would really benefit from technology – and who can’t afford it right now.
When I think of technology holistically, I think of advancements that are bettering the lives of people. When I look more closely, it’s big business, and there’s less of a humanitarian function than I initially hoped for. Apple Watches, Fitbits, and (both physical and insurance) benefit-driven health monitoring apps – who can afford them living below the middle class? Those are the people who might actually exponentially benefit from them.
Overall there were a lot of bright ideas, pushes in political change, and advocates speaking towards the #MeToo campaign, environmental causes and fair access to tech. But representation was lacking – there was little startup action from people who didn’t already come from a place of privilege.
The importance of setting the right example
Before I get too idealistic that we need to be out here saving the world, I would say that I now have a huge appetite and interest to look into technology that helps the groups of people not in the club of elites – and maybe that is something we should all think about. It did remind me this about the amazing work that some of our clients are doing at the moment, like Abbot for example. Abbott has developed a technology that helps read diabetes data on the person in real time. And it’s aimed at all income levels. Work like this, I believe, can greatly improve the lives of people not born into privilege.