At the heart of almost every bustling metropolis is a vibrant core of public utilities and services. These may include subway systems, libraries, and post offices, all of which are crucial to the functionality of a city. But in the 21st century, cities need to conceive of their public utilities more broadly; online and electronic services, like internet access are also, to some degree, the responsibility of localities. However, as of now, most cities have failed to think of public utilities in this way. Perhaps this is because many cities across the country face immense debt. Nevertheless, there is one individual in the private sector who is singlehandedly pursuing a fascinating online vision of utilities, and with great success: Jack Dorsey, father of Twitter.
In a recent interview, Dorsey described his goal as being able "to show everything that’s happening in the world in real time and get us to that data immediately, so we can change our lives even faster, with better knowledge." Given the speed with which Twitter enables change, Dorsey seems to be realizing his goal. True, the mere existence of a website doesn't cause revolutions—but Thomas Jefferson would delight at the ease with which political activists have used the website to further their attempts to refresh the "tree of liberty."
Moreover, the ease of posting to Twitter has helped make it a central forum for communicating easily and clearly in vital situations such as earthquakes. Dorsey has moved on from Twitter, though, to a venture that is perhaps even more exciting for Americans, given our current economic state. Square is a way for people to conduct credit card transactions, without the costly bank fees and investment in proprietary card readers. The service unleashes an individual’s commercial potential and eliminates much of the overhead associated with business transactions. Using Square to conduct transactions necessitates only an iPod touch, a 2.75 percent fee on transactions and a free plug-in card reader. In contrast, one popular Verifone credit card terminal requires a $900 investment by a small business. In a disruptive instance of brilliant minimization, Dorsey has reduced start-up costs for small businesses drastically.
When asked about his inspiration behind creating Square, Dorsey said “Payment is another form of communication, but it’s never been treated as such. It’s never been designed." Perceiving our interactions with one another as the most basic building block of civilization is crucial to having a proper focus on the future direction of society—and increasingly, those interactions happen online and electronically. Unfortunately, our leaders in city government have largely abandoned the enormous promise that lies in designing a more efficient and universally accessible virtual community. In this void, Dorsey has stepped in to create an invisible and vibrant infrastructure all around us that plays counterpoint to the aging and decrepit one we inhabit, and hopefully our elected officials will follow his example.
Nikhil R. Mulani ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Pennypacker Hall.