In the flurry of graduations, I came across Melinda Gates’s commencement address at Duke University in North Carolina – and I wanted to share a piece of it. Most people know Melinda Gates as the wife of Bill Gates, and sometimes as the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created in 1994 to improve healthcare and decrease poverty around the globe. But in her own right, she was once a project manager at Microsoft, working on Publisher, Encarta, and other multimedia products. Her address at Duke struck me though, because of its discussion of technology:
The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It's a powerful tool, but it's just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It's not a tool. It's not a means to an end. It is the end -- the purpose and the result of a meaningful life -- and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity...I believe we are finally creating the scientific and technological tools to turn the world into a neighborhood. And that gives you an amazing ethical opportunity no one has ever had before. You can light up a network of 7 billion people with long-lasting and highly motivating human connections…I hope you will use to the tool of technology to do what you already had it in your heart to do. To connect. To make of this world a brotherhood and a sisterhood.
Gates starts by saying something that we know, every single day in our schools. Our teachers use technology in our classrooms as a tool. Our schools and the learning that happens within its walls could not exist without our teachers. And it’s why we invest in our teachers – we pay them a fair living wage, we provide them with support and feedback from our trained teacher supervisors, and we give them the tools they need to succeed. When she goes on to say that we are finally creating a way to turn the world into a neighborhood – our teams are doing this every single day! Our US and Zambia teams are connected to one another – even though we are over 12,000Km apart, even though we are separated by an ocean, and even though we are on other sides of the world. We all use technology in our everyday lives, but in this context specifically, we use it to build relationships that just wouldn’t have been possible twenty years ago.
-Reshma Patel, Executive Director