An Experiment in Citizenship – March 2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Anil Dash tweeted out some suggestions on political engagement awhile ago that got me thinking. And, yes I lost the links and am too lazy to search for them as I’m busy being politically engaged.

Anyway, his rough ideas was to at least follow your representatives and write them regularly. I’m always thinking about how to be more civically engaged, and this struck a chord. I wonder often “what should we as citizens do” for our friends, family, organizations, country, and world. How should one be politically engaged – and, bluntly, what is the minimum we should expect of people.

I’m obviously a bit obsessed with the idea (I wrote a book on civic geekery). His posts have led me to this – an experiment in “projectizing” my civic engagement to find a good way to be regularly, appropriately engaged as a citizen.

So here’s what I’m doing – I challenge you to do the same.

STEP 1: Join And Follow

First, find reliable organizations that support causes you believe in, and follow them – via Twitter, newsletters, what have you. Make sure you’re getting reliable information so you’re informed.

Many of these organizations also support petitions, raise funds, do marches, etc. That gives you plenty of ways to get involved.

Oh, and if you can, actually join them and slap down that membership fee. They probably need it.  Some even have magazines.

STEP 2: Follow Your Representatives

Second, find and follow your representatives – at least on the national and state level (and try county and city). Follow them on Twitter or Facebook, get their newsletter, whatever.  Make sure you have a way to know what’s going on, and find the right web pages to write them.

STEP 3: Pay Attention

OK, so you’ve got:

  1. Organizations you follow.
  2. Your regular news feed (you have one, right)?
  3. News from your various representatives.

So you’re informed. Next . . .

STEP 4: Get active

Now simple, pay attention so you’re aware of what they’re doing, what they’re saying and what’s going on – and look for a chance to make a difference. Retweet. Sign the petition. March. Hell, take that part-time opening to do a vote drive.  Whatever.

STEP 5: Reach Out

Once a month (minimum) pick an issue you’re concerned about and write your appropriate representatives. Maybe this time it’s your Senator next time your city council. Whatever, just make sure your concerns don’t sit around in your head – go tell the people you bloody well elected what needs to be done – and be civil.

Chances are if you follow the news, you’ll quickly find things to talk about.
I’ve tried this for a month, and it’s already pretty informative. Among my findings:

  • My Representative is far, far more LGBT-right friendly than I knew.
  • Not all my state representatives are as high-tech as I expected (one guy isn’t that big on social media)
  • My new city is damned engaged in development and listens to people (I found some of that out when I dated someone from the city staff).

Also my monthly reach-out to my national reps was over North Carolina’s hideous anti-Trans/anti-LGBT laws. So I let my voice be heard on that – I got one response (sure it was boilerplate but it was something)
So, you up for this? You up to take the challenge? I challenge you to do the same thing – and blog the results, post to Facebook, whatever. Let me know when you do.

(Oh, and by the way, beyond this stuff, you should be voting and closing other forms of civic engagement like speaking or literacy programs or other stuff.  I may write more on that)

  • Steve

Technology, Humanity: Values And What We Value

OK let me wade into the Paul Graham clusterbumble.  For those who haven’t kept up, Graham made a rather bizarre post about economic inequality that pretty much got him roasted like nuts by various people.  Though I think he sort of meant well, it was a bizarre case of self-aggrandizement, ignoring actual inequality issues, and defending some wealth inequality in a way that amplified the other problems of his “position”.  It was, to be charitable, a piece by someone wanting to sound smart and informed and revealing the opposite.

One of the place where his walnuts got toasted was over at Medium, where “Holly Wood” noted his defense’s problems, and this quote stood out, as noted by my good friend Serdar.  In a nutshell it caught everything wrong with the elitist ideas in Silicon Valley (not I don’t say “of” Silicon Valley since it’s a lot more diverse here than people realize).:

You end up going to absurd lengths to rationalize mediocre ideas because they happen to make tons of money instead of questioning the legitimacy of a system that confers so much value on to stupid things. To stay consistent, you have to defend the logic that the creepy women who founded Peeple contribute more value to society than literally thousands of 4th grade teachers.


Serdar rightly notes that this leads us to the uncomfortable position of having to evaluate our values.  Some of our values may not just be bad ideas, they may be actively harmful.

Ultimately our values dictate what we value.  What we think is important affects what we seek out, do, and create.

And, right now, too much tech – too much of society – is based around the idea of the almighty dollar as the arbiter of value over all else.  It doesn’t take much effort to realize that if you ultimately value ‘someone making a ton of money, hopefully me’ it says that your values . . . really aren’t that valuable.  It’s just numbers and pieces of paper being pushed around and biggest pile wins.  It’s trite, meaningless, and damned dangerous when we have other issues to solve and more important things to pursue.

It’s time for technologists – including myself – to ask what our values are and take action to keep, expand, and enhance what is truly of value.

Know what?  The whole pile-of-money-is-best idea is a bad idea.  All it leads to is less  and less people with more and more money, stabbing each other in the back to get to the top of the mountain while everything buns.  You can pretty it up anyway you want, but that’s what money-is-all – an all-to-common value held by people – leads to.  A deathmatch where nothing is left.

Not particularly valuable is it?

As Anil Dash notes in his own essay, it’s time to make our technologies, companies, and what we do with them more humane.  He’s damned right on this.  If technology is only about the biggest pile of money, then it’s worthless, valueless.  It’s just a way station among meltdowns and moneygrabs.

And you know the whole idea that Silicon Valley is a bunch of bloodsucking neo-libertarian asses?  Not true.  Not even some of the people we think are that way.  All of us here are people, and a lot of us are trying.

But I think we need to consider our values. And that should be humanity first, because we’re all human, and it’s better to be human together than inhuman rushing to be last man standing on the then-worthless pile of benjamins.

– Steve




Link Roundup 11/26/2014





  • A look at what’s happening in the world and what’s wrong.  Disruption and stagnation lead to people turning to authoritarian systems because we’ve invalidated people’s past social/educational/financial investments.  Short form – read it to get the long and think about the world we’ll deal with for awhile.



– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at