If you know more, you can do differently

Hey there! I just got back from a bit of traveling. First, actual vacation, mostly unplugged from the internet, absolutely excellent. I swam in cold salty water, I was with family, I ate food that we caught and picked ourselves. I read a lot. It was great. 

Then I was in New York for the IRL weekend intensive for the Library Freedom Institute. A lot of our time was focused on a sort of crash course on Tor and Tails, and I learned a tonne. I wrote earlier about the use of harm reduction pedagogy in privacy and security education, and that certainly carried through to this weekend. We actually started out our time together with a couple hours led by Mallory Hanora of Families for Justice as Healing. Mallory worked with us about facilitation and teaching community-engaged workshops, and I learned so, so much. But perhaps most of all, I have been marveling at how LFI invites us to root our education in anti-oppression and social justice. It seems pretty unusual to root a library technology curriculum in anti-oppression, but wow, it feels good. Among the things that Mallory noted are at the heart of justice-focused workshops, two really stood out to me. 

First is to keep in mind that "if you know more, you can do differently." Instead of shamey-blamey "know better, do better," Mallory suggested this as a way to both honor the existing knowledge that people bring, as well as their autonomy as they decide what to do later. As I have learned repeatedly throughout LFI, even when I know "better," it doesn't necessarily change my behavior. This connects with the goals of harm reduction, and meeting folks where they're at. Mallory pointed out the importance of validating the reasons people use tools that might endanger their privacy. For example, the impulse to use Facebook is about staying connected to people and community -- in fact, a totally natural and positive impulse. What's nasty is to route that impulse into a massive advertising and surveillance machine, right? 

Mallory also focused on the importance of using the workshop space to create the kind of community you hope to build. This idea wasn't new to me, but considering it specifically with technology training was a bit of a shift. In my teaching, I am rarely teaching specific tech tools in great depth, but a lot of what we're learning in LFI is more technical. The default of the all-knowing expert up at the front, and everyone watching them click through certainly isn't the change I want to see in the world, so what are other options? 

And, LFI really engages in this. I've been gradually overcoming my own sense of inadequacy as a technologist, and the curriculum has really supported this. We're not aspiring to become absolute experts, but rather to scrap together the knowledge we need to best help our communities. It's actually part of why libraries make a lot of sense for this work: we often help folks with things that are new to us, that we haven't mastered. If I understand the principles of how search tools are built and functioned, even if I haven't used a specific database, I can pitch in and we can navigate it together. I don't have to understand all of the specifics of the technology in order to advocate for privacy -- instead, solid understanding of concepts like data minimization and threat modeling can help me figure out what I really need to order to help others with what they need to know. And yeah, knowing more gives you the opportunity to do differently.