I have written in this blog before about my background in policymaking and data analysis, and that is the lens that I bring to this course. Two things that I have not written about are two personal interests of mine- audio storytelling and deconstructing masculinity. From these three topics arise three issues to potentially be addressed through this course- one on state data and privacy, one that was compellingly covered last year by one of my favorite podcasts, and one that I’ve been thinking about in healthier masculinity discussion circles.
Aadhaar Cards in India
Almost a decade ago, India launched a program to bring its citizens out of the shadows. The Aadhaar program launched to provide citizens a unique ID number based on demographic and biometric data. Initially, the program was hailed as a solution to corruption and fraud in the country’s welfare system, but ID numbers have become necessary to enroll in a wide range of services- from passports and drivers licenses to bank accounts and cell phones.
The program has often been deemed a resounding success, bringing identification to 1.21 billion of India’s 1.3 billion people, but more recently, privacy advocates have raised questions about the security of this data. The country is currently at odds: a case has made its way to the Indian Supreme Court on the program’s constitutionality (with a verdict coming as soon as tomorrow), while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and multinational tech companies have leapt to its defense.
At its core, this issue is one framed by James C. Scott as legibility to the state- as long as the state is able to know its citizens, it is able to organize and socially control them (for better or worse). While the issue of central identification may seem moot to citizens of countries that have long had such systems (e.g., Social Security Numbers in the United States), the introduction of such a system during an age of technology poses much deeper questions of ownership and use of data as fundamental as biometric and personal identity.
In full honesty, this issue- of how to understand and serve citizens without using that information to potentially infringe on their rights (or, worse, sell their rights to companies)- is of greatest interest to me. I’ve started thinking of how the four levers of social change can solve this issue, such as through greater legal restrictions on use, sale and privacy of data; a change in norms to make the population more aware of the power of this data and sensitive to giving it away; by building code that can more closely monitor use and secure personal data; or by giving each individual ownership of their own data and setting up a market for people to willingly sell or lease their data for a fair price. I would love to spend the semester thinking more about this issue.
Your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number. You maybe pick up, in case that concert venue happened to find two extra tickets to the sold out show that you wanted to take your friend to. Instead you’re delivered a audio ransom notice about unpaid taxes or a compromised cloud account over the chaotic hum of telephone operators giving other schmucks the same spiel.
Phone scams. You know them. You hate them. They and their tech-savvy cousin, the scam email, have been around for so long that we should have figured this out by now, right? But somehow, despite improved spam email filters and official do-not-call lists, it seems like scam phone calls have been on the rise.
This seems first and foremost like an issue of international governance- as long as there’s a government too inept or hamstrung or paid-off to look the other way, we’ll continue to face phone scammers. The solution, however, can come from different sources: a legal international ban that’s agreed to and enforced across countries, perhaps paired with market sanctions against those nations that do not comply; the coded creation of a secure communication system that can only allow communication to be initiated by verified actors (like governments, utilities, creditors, etc.) paired with a norms campaign to ensure that people only trust that secure communication system.
Imbalanced Emotional Labor
Over the past few years, the term ‘emotional labor’ has become more and more common. It refers to a wide range of activities, both personal and professional, that often go unnoticed and almost always go unpaid, but are critical to maintaining the foundation and structure of social environments and relationships. A range of things fall into the bucket of emotional labor- from smiling at strangers to checking-in on and emotionally supporting loved ones to managing domestic space (and on and on).
Perhaps we’ve come to a point that this single term is inadequate to describe all of the interactive work that falls into it, but two things that remain true of things identified as emotional labor are that they generally go unrecognized and that they are unequally done much less by men and much more by others (including women and non-binary or non-gendered people).
This gendered imbalance arises from the way we socialize infants and children, is reinforced by the expectations we hold adults to, and manifests in fragile relationships later on in life, among a range of other adverse and inequitable consequences to people of all genders. At one level, it is important to raise awareness of what counts as emotional labor and who is doing it (which can be done by changing norms through educative campaigns, media depictions, and modified expectations of this work), it is also important that emotional labor is seen as valuable and the shared responsibility of all people, regardless of gender (which can come about by a change in laws to encourage equal participation, such as through equal maternal and paternal leave; by a fair compensation of emotional and domestic work in markets). In addition, more ways to code and measure who is doing different kinds of emotional labor can help us evaluate the progress that we make in this sphere.