Can Technology Solve Poverty?

Technology can address the symptoms of poverty

Apps are basically high tech communication devices. They are really useful for gathering and distributing information. In that respect, they can help address the symptoms of poverty by providing poverty survivors access to:

  • Information about potential resources.
  • Free educational resources, tutoring services and MOOCs.
  • Crisis lines addressing everything a person without health care or the cash to pay for professional help, including: medical questions, parenting questions, suicide hotlines, 12-step program hotlines, etc.
  • Legal advice
  • Job listings, resume advice, job advice, etc.
  • Establishing funding platforms to meet the needs of schools and similar resources in poverty stricken neighborhoods.
  • Applying for assistance through online forms (it is important to note that this has both positive and negative affects on access to those resources)

These apps can also affect public perception by answering the questions and addressing the prejudices surrounding poverty. They can attempt to educate the masses about the realities of poverty and the truth about who poverty survivors really are, including those of us who have experienced homelessness.

The voices of poverty survivors

All of these things currently exist and all of them require access to the internet and the specific technology required to connect to the applications. While there are plenty of poverty survivors (homeless included) who have some form of smart phone (Tracfone offers several android phones for less than $100 and a SUPER cheap pay-as-you-go plan…it’s really easy to get one), for many people that is where the technology ends.

Being able to leverage these opportunities often requires access to more than a low grade android cell phone. Determined poverty survivors with access to a reasonably well funded public library will use the computer lab to access all of these things. Others just shrug their shoulders and assume they don’t apply to them.

The thing that is missing from all of these resources and opportunities is the voice of poverty survivors themselves. Please watch the following TED talk by Mia Birdsong. She says it far better than I ever could:

Can technology solve poverty?

No. Poverty is not caused by technology, so technology is not close enough to the source of the problem to have a profound effect on the problem.

Technology does not pay the bills or end human rights violations. It does not block human trafficking, slavery, violence, exploitation or stalking (cyber or face-to-face). It does not end racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, slander or classicism. It does not prevent police brutality or government corruption. It does not put food on the table, a roof over your head or clothes on your back. It does not force your employer to pay a living wage – or provide the paycheck that is owed to you.

It doesn’t even get you a job. Access to long lists of jobs posted to websites like LinkedIn is helpful, but it is NOT a job. If one of those job postings happen to materialize into a job, there’s no guarantee it will pay a living wage.

Poverty can be positively affected by technology. I encourage those with this particular skill set to look for ways to use those skills to positively change the world in every possible way, including addressing the symptoms of poverty. But never forget that these are symptoms and not root cause. Until the root cause is addressed, poverty will remain epidemic in this country and around the world.

-Originally posted to Quora in response to the (frequently asked) question Can apps be used to tackle societal problems like hunger or homelessness or income insecurity?

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