Ramesh Srinivasan Helps Find UCLA’s Answer to the Question, “What is Hope?”

Scholar of social media and movements shared perspectives on dominant forces of the internet, implications for society.

UCLA Professor of Information Studies Ramesh Srinivasan participated in UCLA’s “10 Questions” series on Monday, Nov. 2., in conversation with Victoria Marks, associate dean of academic affairs, UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture; Tananarive Due, film historian and lecturer in the UCLA Department of African American Studies; and Herbie Hancock, jazz pioneer, UCLA adjunct faculty member and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador. The online discussion explored answers to the question, “What is Hope?” 

Srinivasan is the author of “Beyond the Valley: How Innovators around the World are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow,” which has been recognized as one of Forbes’ Top 10 Technology Books of 2019. He served as a national surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign on issues of technology policy and more recently, as an innovation policy advisor to the presidential campaign of Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.

Professor Srinivasan delineated the wide-ranging effects of the internet on everything from transportation to media, which he described as “charging rents, extracting value and extracting data our of all of our experiences.”

“… The internet was originally publicly funded,” noted Srinivasan. “We the taxpayers, paid… funding for the underlying infrastructure that became the internet. But as we all know, the wealthiest companies in the history of the world are internet companies that all built themselves up on top of that infrastructure.

“All of the costs are socialized – we pay for everything – and all of the profits and valuation are privatized. And when private greed that is so unaccountable goes too far, all of the costs come back up on us.”

Srinivasan spoke of the political and social ramifications of the internet, and how the racist and misogynistic biases are broadcast due to the dominance of white and Asian males in the tech industry.

“We are also realizing more and more, that many of these tech companies, because of the insular world of those who are building and designing these technologies – meaning often white and Asian males – have turned out to reflect, normalize, and perpetuate implicit biases, at the minimum,” he said.

Professor Srinivasan shared his experience of studying the Arab Spring movement and how underresourced communities around the world have devised to make the most of the technology available to them to build economic stability and equity. Srinivasan also discussed his current work in advocating for a “digital bill of rights” that would bring the internet’s economic and cultural advantages to all. 

“It’s not just our privacy, but it’s our economic lives, it’s our political lives, it’s our cultural lives,” he said. “So, thinking about all these layers of humanizing technology – a digital future that lifts all of us up – that is what I am deeply hopeful about.”

“We can think about ways, with the astonishing economic injustice and inequality we see in this country, to use technology… to restore greater equality in our society so our society can heal and we can all move forward together.”

Srinivasan has a joint appointment at UCLA as an associate professor in Design|Media Arts, and is the founder and director of the University of California’s Digital Cultures Lab. Prior to arriving at UCLA, he was a lecturer at the UC San Diego Department of Ethnic Studies; and a Doctoral Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Professor Srinivasan earned his doctorate in design studies at Harvard; his master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at Stanford. 

Srinivasan is a regular TEDx Talks speaker, and makes media appearances on MSNBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, “The Young Turks,” National Geographic, Radio Pacifica, the Atlantic, and Public Radio International, and his writings have been widely published by Al Jazeera English, CNN, Wired, The Washington Post, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.

To view “What is Hope?” a UCLA “10 Questions” event, visit the UCLA YouTube channel.