Objectifying Humanity Through Technological Advancement

Objectification is normally seen as negative in when applied to people, but through industrialization we became objects without even realizing. Nearly every one working within a system is objectified, and this is by design. Objectification is prevalent in every industry, tech, healthcare, politics, manufacturing, it seems to be a ubiquitous ideal. Healthcare seems to be a good example, on the educative side, future doctors are given an intimate knowledge of the interior of a human. Byron J Good explains it well stating “Within the lifeworld of medicine, the body is newly constituted as a medical body, quite distinct from the bodies with which we interact in everyday life…” A paradigm shift occurs in the students mind, from human, to patient. The idea of a patient comes with a problem solving intention. Interaction becomes tainted, shifted from looking at a person to looking for symptoms, for something to fix.

AprilStarr in a post after an experience in a hospital, she aired some frustrations. These all lead to show how our medical industry, one of the most intimate spaces, has shifted focus from working with humans, to working on them. She details and experience where “In one day, we had 5 different groups of residents and their arrogant leaders come by and wake my husband up to ask the same set of questions that have been documented in his chart (that 5-wheel car doctor seems to think everyone is reading).” She understands the needs of residents to learn, but having little decency to allow a patient rest shows the lack of concern for the “person” and more of a concern for the end of “helping.”

What this level of objectification truly leads to is the tactical nature of an object over a human. Objects are able to be used, humans on the other hand, are not. Kant’s categorical imperative in action: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.” This imperative should shape the way we understand one another in the world. Industrial culture has allowed this to fall under the line of importance.

There are organizations dedicated to beginning again, with a more human centered understanding. The Dell Medical School is attempting a new model for the healthcare industry, working to ensure the overall health of an individual, and not just seeing patients as a list of symptoms or problems to be solved. Hopefully their success is well-won and their model becomes the norm. Design is the word we use for creating experiences allowing people to feel comfortable, but seemingly, it is the process of creating something actually for a person, not just an object of utility.

The issue is then not a question of how does it happen, but why? When did we, as a people, allow ourselves to simply be used as means to an end. When did businesses decide to throw the ethical ideas of what a person is out, and deify profit margins and efficiency? Is it too late?Industrialization and technology seem to have caused this shift to be catalyzed and blown to epic proportions. These industries have boomed such in past decades there is no way for the world of policy, regulation, and true understanding of consequences to catch up. Like healthcare, but much worse, companies and governments are realizing this quickly. While some seek to protect their populations from the potential negative effects, others seek control for propaganda and to spread doubt among their populations. The bottom line is: they seek to control the objects interacting with their goods and services, but only enough to ensure loyalty or continued use. Those objects are you.

Our experiences with technology and the way it has been delivered shape our understanding of it, and control of this is never in the hands of a user, but always an interpreter of their needs. Sometimes things work out well, and others times they fail, but always there is a lack of understanding of the medium. Technology becomes a delivery mechanism for all of this, and technology is arguably out of our control. In his article “Why Nothing Works Anymore,” Ian Bogost talks about how “technology is becoming a force that surrounds humans, that intersects with humans, that makes use of humans—but not necessarily in the service of human ends.” Technology is becoming more and more powerful, and our “needs” are becoming more and more lofty.

Making more efficient chips, more efficient power supplies, smaller and thinner and better batteries the name of efficiency is the new game. So users can use their phones longer, or have a smaller profile in their pocket. But ultimately, technology is now in service to technology and users are simply a by product of this creation. Ray Kurzweil details how quickly technology is indeed expanding, which also highlights how little we know of the social and cultural impacts. He contends circuitry was created, it has been improving exponentially and soon, will well exceed the cognitive ability of the collective brains on Earth. Kurzweil shows by his math, by 2059, one human race of computing capability will be available for roughly one cent. Here Kurzweil is using objectification of the human race to show how insignificant out capability will soon be. Whether our physical manifestation is as necessary has yet to be seen.

Bruce Streling describes this problem well, saying:

“We have entered an unimagined culture. In this world of search engines and cross-links, of keywords and networks, the solid smokestacks of yesterday’s disciplines have blown out. Instead of being armored in technique or sheltered within subculture, design and science fiction have become like two silk balloons, two frail, polymorphic pockets of hot air, flowing in a generally tainted atmosphere.”

His point seems to be that design is now mingling with science fiction, because science fiction is our current reality. Just because our idea of what the future should have been do not match up with what it is, does not allow for a disregard of the lack of understanding technology has on our world.

As designers, what then can we do to tame this chaotic and shapeless landscape expanding exponentially beyond our control? We can reign it in. By constraining the interaction and guiding users through these chaotic systems in a manner suiting a human, design can become a sherpa leading into the technological age. Listening to people like April who had a poor experience during an exceedingly difficult time can provide incredible insight into what needs to be done better. Thinking you know better than her is not.

Gary Marsden tells a nearly cautionary tale of how human centered design has evolved. It’s inception was “to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the interaction between the computer and the user…The results were analyzed to better understand the human cognitive process and better optimize the interaction between user and computer.” This presupposes two things: initially the human was not as capable, and second, the human does not know what is needed. This scenario shows how interaction design has grown from a practice of objectification and is shifting to understanding people.

Understanding technology and the impact it has is equally, if not more important. In his work “People are people, but technology is not technology,” Marsden goes on to explain how he and his team used real human centered design to help create working software for medical teams in remote areas. They completely changed the way doctors and nurses communicated, because they focused on the person, and worked within their understanding of technology. Delivering more power and more speed and the next best thing should not be the focus. It should be on delivering what people need, in a form that does not alienate us from the technology we use. Ian Bogost warns of the complacency of being uncertain whether your technology will work for you or not, and I feel this warning well. He says “It won’t take a computational singularity for humans to cede their lives to the world of machines. they’ve already been doing so, for years, without even noticing.” He seems to make us all out as slaves to the progress of technology. Our focus has to shift to the users of technology, not the spirit of technology itself. Design is our medium to do this, to create a cohesive world from the chaos in it now.