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My 2023 Annual Review: Between Individual and Systems

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In short, the year 2023 has brought deepness to my life. It is exactly what I stated in the 2022 reflection as something I wanted to try next year, and I have committed to exploring the problems I have been concerned about for the last decade—skewed power dynamics and loss of humanity in the use of information technology. From January to December, by surveying academic papers, traveling to various destinations, interacting with mixed people, making my hands dirty in the field, and writing less frequent but more focused 12 monthly blog posts (vs. weekly 52 posts in 2022), I have continuously crystallized and reshaped my understanding of systemic issues. Now, I'm better equipped with the new tools to challenge the complex problems our society holds, both intellectually and practically.

takuya-presenting * One of the year's last activities was to congratulate the Malawian young people who completed a computer programming course I have taken a trainer role for the past three months. Such experiences in the field are great opportunities for me to think deeply about and act against social issues I have been concerned about.

While traveling in Mexico, the US, and Japan, the year started with realization about the complexity embodied in the simplistic things in the world; our world is rich in information in many ways, yet the complexity derived from the dynamic streams of information is often invisible for ordinary people (i.e., laborers, in contrast to the capitalists). When it comes to the use of technology, such invisibility amplifies the skewed power dynamics shaping today's inequality, and ironically, the emergence of ChatGPT and the development of LLMs by big organizations have made the invisible powers somewhat visible throughout the year. Currently, I strongly believe that society as a whole needs to make active interventions in such a "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" phenomenon, otherwise we may lose humanity while unknowingly being manipulated by the systems.

So, what would the possible interventions look like? Knowing it is a multifaced problem, there won't be a one-size-fits-all "solution" one can propose. We should rather start with field studies to better understand what's going on in a local environment and come up with a risk mitigation strategy with contextual adaptation in mind, always taking one step at a time. Along the way, you may end up with making a philosophical attempt and finding a clue in the widely accepted best practices, but we should be careful about the fact that the written theories won't always work in real life, and the definition of best practices is context dependent; the systemic issues are not something someone can independently address in their mind or the knowledge from the textbooks, and it requires interactions with the others who are thinking differently or know better about the environment. In this regard, while I was struggling with an overdose of solitude at first, the experience of becoming an international volunteer and relocating to one of the poorest countries in the world allowed me to gradually realize the power of collective actions towards the end of the year.

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* World University Service of Canada, a Canadian organization I am working for as a volunteer, highlighted my journey for this year's International Volunteer Day on December 5th.

On the one hand, an experienced individual can be better at dealing with a certain problem than others, and you might think you can change the world if you take a bold move and do a good job. But our world is not that simple, and your individualistic approach probably doesn't work. On the contrary, even in the specific areas of my expertise, my volunteer journey in Malawi is full of awakening experiences that have constantly reshaped my understanding of priorities, best practices, and sustainability in the development context. There is no shortcut, and as a developer of software applications in data/AI, I observed some of the fundamental challenges yet to be discussed among Malawians in digital literacy, data governance, form of entertainment, and education during the latter half of the year.

Here I am with 7 more months remaining ahead in the small landlocked country in Southeast Africa. To me, what's missing in the country is the basic planning and execution practices, the idea of investing in quality (long-term) over quantity (short-term), role models, and moderate competition to stimulate the market. In 2024, therefore, I'd try making the current observations more tangible (e.g., implementation and publications) in the context of sustainable capitalism, while continuously promoting equitable, fair access to ICT in the geographies of information. Not to mention I must keep cultivating the awareness of local traditions and cultural differences at the same time. Otherwise, the outsider's self-centered actions wouldn't be different from the terrible history of assimilation other countries experienced in the past.



Life & Work

  See also

Relativize Malawi, and Rethink Their Contexts
Is Computer Education Always Good?
Starting Field Study on How Information Flows in Malawi


Last updated: 2023-12-25

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information.

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