In our design theory class we’ve been building a library of theoretical frameworks. These frameworks are related to design and topics that naturally overlap with design. Lately we’ve been considering the effects of technology on information, privacy, consumerism and–more broadly–the human condition. As we do with each broad design topic, our process for making sense of the ideas in the readings is to 1) create a framework of our own, 2) push each of the readings through this framework, and 3) synthesize new ideas from the results. The short term result is consistently a deeper understanding of the topic and a more developed viewpoint from which to engage each other’s presentations. In the long term I believe this process will also lead us to richer approaches to the world as designers.
During this recent delve into technology and information we read and discussed work from eight authors:
Neil Postman – Informing Ourselves to Death
John Dewey – The Need of a Theory of Experience
Paul Dourish – Unpacking “Privacy” for a Networked World
danah boyd - Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck
Emily Nussbaum – Say Everything
C.K. Prahalad – Selling to the Poor
Erik Hersman – A Rising Tide
Jocelyn Wyatt – Design Thinking for Social Innovation
I pushed my subjective interpretation of each author’s viewpoint through a 2×2 diagram and tried to synthesize an intuitive statement about Technology. As I went through this I started to see archetypal themes develop and I tried to push those ideas until they became fantasy characterizations. This diagram resulted from that process:
I think the synthesized statements are comprehensible on their own, but also I feel I should explain at least two of the characterizations since this is a public forum and the characterizations may be prone to misinterpretation without some of the subtlety I conveyed in the presentation.
Erik Hersman as “The Camel Trader” – This characterization is born out of Hersman’s strong case for investing time and trust in local entrepreneurs. Hersman presents a compelling argument about why–instead of attempting to just bring technology to bare on problems–we should capitalize on the people who best understand the context that the technology will live in and can bring their own vision and experience to bare on the appropriate repurposing, adaptation, and distribution of technology in a region. Similarly, the camel trader understands and profits from specific knowledge of extreme conditions where outsiders might blindly attempt to apply technology.
Emily Nussbaum as “The Jester” – A surface interpretation of this characterization was that I didn’t take this reading seriously. That would be offensive toward Nussbaum and untrue. Nussbaum’s article reveals the way that new technology produces seemingly vacant spectacle and entertainment but that this spectacle sets the stage for behavior and use of the technology in new–potentially humanizing–ways. This a sneaky process that isn’t always perceived by the incumbent social class. Similarly, in stories the Jester uses spectacle to entertain (often times self-spectacle) but that this form of humor often carries in it a deep satire that foreshadows impending shifts in power.
Taken on the whole, the 2×2 forces us to consider the method of the technology (this might also be thought of as the targeted goals of the technology) against the medium of technology (I tend to think of this as how the technology actually presents itself during interactions). Combining this vertical axis with the question of whether technology helps us connect with and express our own humanity or whether technology leads to a more fractured relationship with our humanity produces a powerful framework: What effects do the method and medium of technology have on own humanity?
Ultimately that’s the framework I pushed each reading through and it also led me to this addition to my 2×2:
I think Postman correctly identifies the danger of unguided technological obsession but lacks the courage and imagination to help create a world that can battle the “fire breathing dragon”. Dewey does much better because instead of just recognizing dangerous eventualities he conjures tools to contend with them. As designers we will stand the greatest chance of producing positive social impact when we create a tension in ourselves between tendency for technology used in poorly designed methods and mediums to erode our humanity vs. the potential for well designed methods and mediums to leverage technology and create deep and meaningful connections to ourselves and each other.
-ScottNo Comments »