Summary and Reflection: Automating Inequality

Updated: 4 days ago

Automating Inequality details three recent incidents in the US where digital processes enforced barriers to public resources based on racist and classist ideals. Virginia Eubanks visits LA, Pittsburgh, and Indiana to illustrate a cautionary tale of what public systems become when we unconsciously (or consciously) build tech with the worst of our American values. Far from an indictment of Big Tech, Eubanks paints the broader picture of inequity and poverty of the US throughout history as the backdrop for each scenario. 

“Technologies of poverty management are not neutral. They are shaped by our nation’s fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor; they in turn shape the politics and experience of poverty”

The historical background about poverty and racism in this country was one of the most interesting parts of this book; I’d grab it for that reason alone. As a tech maker, it was wildly helpful to reframe the way I think about services and access in my own products. Eubanks also takes this broader lens with the current events she illustrates, Showing not only the technological process, but the social and political processes that contributed to the inequity she studied. Keep an eye out for Jonnie Tillman, black/female welfare reform activist who created a long-term, intersectional and bi-racial movement and had no trouble keeping Dr. Martin Luther King in his place when needed. It’s so rewarding when long-shadowed, American heroes are brought to light. If you pick up this book, reach out on Instagram, Twitter, or email and let me know what you think! We can have a little coffee talk about it and see where we can decolonize your tech or make your product processes anti-racist. 

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