Silicon Valley has been lampooned as the place where entrepreneurs like to declare they’re “making the world a better place” when they’re actually just trying to make money. But now a new, nonpartisan initiative called Debug Politics is encouraging the tech industry to live up to the catchphrase — by helping to fix the political system.
Jesse Pickard, CEO of “brain training” app Elevate, told me that after the presidential election, he and the other organizers of Debug Politics were discussing their frustrations and their desire to get more involved in the political process.
“We don’t think we are the only ones that can fix the situation, or that we will save the world in a weekend,” Pickard said. However, they felt “the tech community can and should be engaged in things that are about more than monetary gain.”
(I should mention that — thanks to the magic of Craigslist — Pickard was my roommate for about a year when I was first starting at TechCrunch.)
Specifically, Debug Politics is organizing a hackathon this weekend in San Francisco, followed by events in New York, Los Angeles and another in SF. Attendees (who could be developers, designers, marketers and others) are encouraged to figure out “one thing that you’re dissatisfied with in the 2016 election cycle” and build something to fix it — whether that’s something that could help a particular candidate in 2018, or could address broader issues like the divide between rural and urban voters.
When I suggested that many of our political problems may not be fixable by a tech product, Pickard didn’t disagree, but he suggested, “Everyone has a different set of skills. What the tech community can do effectively is build products that can quickly affect people at scale.”
He was also sensitive to the perception that folks in the tech industry might be presumptuous in thinking they know better than the people and organizations who’ve spent years dealing with these problems.
“Another thing that Debug Politics also really encourages is not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “If there are groups that are potentially tackling the problem in a way that’s very aligned with you, we encourage people to reach out to those groups.”
To be clear, there’s no formal organization here, just a group of friends and peers putting together some events. But it’s still very early days in an effort that could grow.
“I might have a different answer for you in a couple of weeks,” Pickard said.