Philanthropy Buzzwords 2022: For Good or Bad, Technology Will Rule
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that a large dose of humility is needed when predicting future trends. The ongoing pandemic, global warming, expanding inequality, and threats to our democracy will certainly remain facts of life in the coming year. Peering through the harsh light of 2021, one other thing is certain: many of the changes ahead will take place in the technological realm.
We’re entering another cycle of techno-lingo hype. Prepare for a year full of major tech promises and lots of tech jargon. Those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic world should put on our skepticism goggles for much of what’s coming. But beyond the individual terms, the list as a whole does offer plenty of room for thoughtful, equity-based analysis of the big buzzy possibilities in 2022.
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If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that a large dose of humility is needed when predicting trends. The ongoing pandemic, global warming, expanding inequality, and threats to our democracy will certainly remain facts of life in the coming year. Peering through the harsh light of 2021, one other thing is certain: Many of the changes ahead will take place in the technological realm.
We’re entering another cycle of techno-lingo hype. Prepare for a year full of major tech promises and lots of tech jargon. Those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic world should put on our skepticism goggles for much of what’s coming. But beyond the individual terms, the list as a whole does offer plenty of room for thoughtful, equity-based analysis of the big buzzy possibilities in 2022. Here are the words to watch, drawn from my Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2022, which was released today.
Embraced by cryptocurrency enthusiasts, DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations, are new organizational structures that bypass bureaucratic norms, including the need for managers. Instead, decision making is governed by rules encoded in transparent software code, which is controlled by the organization’s members. A recent search turned up 470 DAOs, one of which bid on a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Many are focused on artists, art collecting, and art investing. (See bonus buzzword, NFT.)
Dark patterns are user interfaces on websites and apps designed to deceive or manipulate people into taking actions against their best interest, such as buying products or signing up for monthly services they don’t need. Fundraising sites that default to recurring payments raised awareness of the practice in the area of political donations, suggesting a need for further investigation of these tactics in the larger fundraising world.
This is the practice of encouraging people to donate their data for a cause. Examples include a request by Consumer Reports for people to share their cable bills for an investigation into how cable companies use hidden fees to raise prices. Another increasingly common example is invitations to participate in medical research by contributing mobile health data. These efforts raise questions of consent, usage, security, and governance, all of which will shape if and how people retain the right to donate their data.
Data subject access requests
Individuals in the European Union and California have the right to request the personal data an organization holds about them, including how they intend to use it. People can assign their rights to such data to third parties, such as a union, collective, or nonprofit, which can use the aggregated data to build “mirror databases” (see below) to inform their advocacy or organizing. One example is the Workers Info Exchange in London, which helps create fair and transparent work conditions by collecting data that rideshare companies hold about their drivers.
This is an invisible digital boundary set up by an entity such as a retailer to send messages or ads to all cell phones within a prescribed distance of a store or other physical space. Geofences are used by political parties to send messages to people in a specific location, such as a house of worship, or to get out the vote. Nonprofit communications consultants are promoting geofencing to their clients, so expect to hear much more about this.
The landscape of giving products now marketed across the United States and elsewhere. This includes text message giving, rounding up receipts, cash register donations, donor-advised funds, and foundations. We’ve been promised democratized giving, but what we’ve got is a marketplace of giving products. I explore the givingscape
in detail, including the ways data and money flow through it, in my book How We Give Now.
This is a machine-learning model, trained on internet data, that produces human-like text. Developed by OpenAI, it allows anyone to enter a small amount of text and receive large amounts of copy produced by computers. It has been used to write news articles, product descriptions, and at least one book, Pharmako AI. You may have read text generated by GPT-3 without knowing it. For better or worse, this piece was generated by an actual person — Lucy Bernholz.
Originally a term from fiction, the simplest way to think of the metaverse is as life inside the internet where all our interactions exist in connected virtual environments. Why does this matter to you? If your boss makes you use video-conferencing software where photos of your colleagues float above a conference room background, that’s the metaverse. Look for nonprofits and foundations to get bombarded with hype about it in 2022. What’s really being sold here? Ever more data-extractive workplace software.
These are databases built by academic researchers or nonprofits to mirror the databases held by companies or governments. This information is increasingly available through data subject access requests, as discussed above. Mirror databases are used to better understand what information companies hold and to discern patterns about how the data is used, making them important advocacy and negotiation tools for consumer- protection organizations and labor groups. The Mozilla Foundation recently launched an open-source browser tool called Rally to enable more such research and address the information imbalance between people and companies.
Global warming has passed the point of no return. The experts tell us we have eight years to slow things down before the world faces climate catastrophe. Democracy in the United States is under direct assault, and an electoral crisis in 2024 appears more likely than not. Foundations, governments, and the media will bombard us with a sense of urgency. But the real question is, how much will actually change? Continue to look to communities, activists, and online networks to drive true change.
You may have had enough with all the talk about blockchain and cryptocurrency. Sorry, here’s another one to brush up on. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are a way to make digital items distinct and non-interchangeable. For example, digital photos are easily copied and abundant, which limits their financial value. But associating an original photo with an NFT allows it to be distinguished from copies by, say, encrypting it with the artist’s signature. Since capitalism depends on scarcity for value, NFTs are a way to make digital items rare and collectable. NFTs had a big year in the art world in 2021 — the first NFT artwork sold at auction for more than $69 million, and charities are already experimenting with them. Crypto-Based Digital Art Frenzy Draws in Charities
Expect more buzz about NFTs in 2022.