Student finds tech future requires design for human needs

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Viktoria Wulff-Andersen

The students at the technology summit on their final day,

Hoping to broaden my worldly outlook, I took an opportunity to attend Education First’s Global Leadership Summit this summer with some classmates. We visited London and Paris, then settled down in Berlin with thousands of international students at a leadership conference. This was more than a 12-day vacation to Europe’s major cities. The summit had an intriguing premise: “The Influence of Technology on Society.”

“Technology is always around us, so for me it’s more of a common thing,” said Jessica Weiss of Wisconsin during the course of The Do School’s workshop. It taught students problem-solving skills through meeting challenges. The start of this tour stressed that many believe technology is what runs our world, but students often do not recognize that they can influence the shaping of technology. So the summit explained what technology really means. Each activity encouraged us to think about our own role in developing the world’s digital future.

Viktoria Wulff-Andersen

Students sharing their ideas at the summit.

Students worked in groups to draw up technology-based inventions, then pitched their efforts to a judging panel. Selected keynote speakers — such as Randi Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook Live,  and Glen Keane, a former Disney animator — spoke to teach and inspire the students in their process of creating projects.

Zuckerberg is a passionate advocate for the integration of technology and societal connections. “We live in this world where tech is ingrained in everything we do. I think you guys are in a position to change the future of technology,” she said.

Education First guided students in creating their invention pitches. The students first planned together, then used construction materials to build a rough model. The pitches were made to reflect reality because the organization encouraged design thinking that centered on consumer-based solutions. Students expanded their understanding by planning and building problem-solving inventions.

Laura Walkup of Michigan had this to say: “The design thinking process helped us a lot in our technological creation. In fact, the integration of humans and technology helped us communicate a lot more effectively.” Her group created a band to alleviate social anxiety, inspired by a peer’s social media struggles.

Of the 50 students in the virtual reality workshop, 46 at first admitted to believing that technology has made us more distant from one another. Yet the process promoted the idea that well-designed technology can unite us on common fronts. The pursuit of development in our digital world can help resolve human issues and bring us closer together. Overall, student views shifted, and this conference presented universal benefits of technology. Drew Talarico of Danbury  commented: “I think … technology bringing us together is awesome.”

Many student groups drew on empathy in their inventions. From “Leave Line” — a sexual harassment alert — to “Refresh Air” — an air freshener for densely polluted urban areas — these students sought answers to common human problems. The inventions were judged, then ranked according to merit.  Members of the winning group “Savor,” created an allergen detector based on a peer’s struggles with food allergies. They were motivated to solve the issue by relating to the student’s expressed anxiety. Regardless of ranking, every participant showed the ability and drive to shape our future by  connecting emotionally with others.

As a student journalist, I’ve viewed technology primarily as a medium. For my stories, I want humane authenticity. Before this summit, I hadn’t even considered incorporating technology into my pieces, disregarding its involvement with our culture.

Student groups pitching their inventions.

Now, I can see technology as a potential advocate for diversity — from the struggles of those with mental illness to the voicing of concerns by marginalized groups. Taking part in this summit helped me realize that technology can be humanity’s connective tissue.

For a long time, technology has been thought of as what “makes things work.” It was a simple fact of existence. Through the discoveries we made, my friends and I, who represent the next generation, came to a realization that the future of technology is knocking on our door. And it’s demanding that we incorporate the human experience. It’s time for us to initiate this evolution.


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