Daily Column -6th March 2022

California’s 17th district may sound like any other district until you realise that it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley. Ro Khanna is a US representative for that district in the state.

Khanna has seen how tech innovation can change communities, and in his new book, Dignity in a Digital Age, he lays out a plan for getting tech jobs from Silicon Valley to the rest of the country.

He told us about some of the big ideas in his book.

Dignity in a Digital Age was written for people who were interested in the subject.

I wrote the book for people who work in tech to think about how they can help people in rural areas of the United States, especially those who are black and brown. I wrote the book for people who aren’t part of the modern economy, so they can figure out how to get in. I also wrote the book to get policymakers to pay more attention to people who haven’t been able to make any money in the modern world.

It’s a big part of your book to spread tech jobs all over the United States. Then, in the last 10 years, cities that have seen big tech booms, like Austin, have also seen housing prices go up a lot more. In order to make a new tech hub, how do you cut down on the cost of housing?

Things we did wrong in Silicon Valley or other parts of the country where these tech cities have grown must be learned. In the Bay Area, there are a lot of housing problems, so we need to spread out these jobs. The more people who can work from rural areas and work from home, the less you’re going to have to deal with these problems. That’s how you can have a member of Congress from Silicon Valley talking about job growth outside of his own area of Congress.

But two, you need to build more low-cost homes. There were rules put on housing in the Bay Area that were not true. Some NIMBYism, a lot of people don’t like each other. So, we need to build more homes.

Congress is “technologically incompetent.” How do you fix this? Elon Musk has said that people should not be able to run for office if they are too young.

I wouldn’t be in favour of putting an age limit on how old you could be (laughs). To make tech policy, you don’t have to be a computer person, but you do need to know how things work. And you don’t have to be a tech worker to do this. That’s true, right? Members of Congress should be in charge of their own social media accounts and tweet from time to time. They should get a digital wallet or go to Coinbase and see what it’s like. They should see how it works. As even if they don’t agree with everything, they should still take a look at some of these tech companies. This will give them a better idea of what basic digital life is like and how it all works. And then they’ll be able to control it. But I think there’s a big difference between how many people are living their digital lives and how Congressmen and women are living theirs.

Is it a good idea for Congress to run their own TikTok accounts so they can learn about social media?

They should at least have looked at some TikTok videos before this.

A social media company would say this to you today: “Rep. Khanna: We will do everything we can to make the world a better place. We promise.” What should we do? Ask them to make the first change.

People who study philosophy, politics, journalism, and the liberal arts should be hired. I’d like to hire 100 of them. If you set up a place where people can talk about and amplify everything they say, they will help you see how naive that idea is. A thoughtful public sphere is so hard to build.

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