The Solutionistic Gaze

I am exploring Micah Alex's Techo-Futures from Bidar, another piece from the first issue of COMPOST magazine. There's a passage that's worth mentioning:

“Technological projects in rural India always come with a solutionistic gaze. We want to solve everything through technology. It is imperative that we bring the role of technology down a peg and realistically look at what we are introducing and if it can, truly, “solve” anything. It is much more pragmatic to introduce technology as a new way of generating, storing and disseminating cultural practices among many many others and avoid the political glorification of it.”

Context: The Indian government is pushing hard for newer digital transactions and infrastructures without an understanding of all that needs to come before that, including examining their impact on communities’ human rights and privacy.

“The solutionstic gaze” is such a poignant way to put it. Technology doesn't have to solve everything. Knowing how technology can be used in a solution is better than blanketing technology all over a solution. And that means understanding what people need — empathy.

There's a great story from a great talk by Darius Kazemi where he refers to a well-meaning developer asking what their team could build for activists to use. This was the wrong question. From prior experience with activists, Kazemi mentions that if the work was understood from an empathetic lens, the developer would first learn as much as she could from the activists rather than focusing on technology's solutionstic gaze. What are the problems the activists are hoping to solve? It’s not about what you can build with the latest technology but how you can empower people.

Because, as Kazemi mentions, sometimes that means less technology, not more of it.