August 25, 2021Mindsets are changing on the civic role of Big Tech

Environmental emergencies in the Northwest are accelerating people's dependency on technology to navigate environmental disaster. With people looking to tech for solutions to daily environmental challenges, the civic role of Big Tech is being scrutinised at a local, as well as global, level.

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Tech companies are responding to the impact of wildfires in the Northwest by creating air-quality apps that enable people to monitor air pollution and decide whether to stay indoors. With research on the impact of air pollution suggesting links to complications in pregnancy and cognitive issues, people are looking to governments and businesses to take action. Air pollution is more likely to impact marginalised communities, says Dr. Yanelli Nunez, postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University. The crises of ongoing wildfire emergencies and homeless encampments unfolding in the shadow of a local industry made up of tech giants has led to ideological tensions that have played out publicly between industry figureheads.

Questions about the civic, ethical, and environmental responsibility of the sector continue to impact public opinion of Silicon Valley. As Americans step firmly into the second decade of the 21st century shaken by digitally enhanced political polarization, they no longer view technology and innovation in the same, unanimously utopian way that characterized the aughts. While some technology companies have won appreciation for applying innovative solutions to bring people together throughout the pandemic, those that rely on cultural currency to retain brand loyalty are increasingly focused on applying their unique capacity for innovation to solve local problems that have become too visible to ignore.

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