Designing Humanity

Arts & Culture
re:publica 2016

Short thesis: 

This session proposes that the design of digital interfaces and interactions is a fundamentally moral and political enterprise. From weather forecasts to activity trackers, digital interactions shape the way we understand the world around us. We are shaped in turn by the interfaces we use. Swiping right to select a date or sharing selfies, digital interactions are designed to fulfil a vision of frictionless ubiquity. Is that the right thing to do? What would be better? How should we respond? Come and listen to a few suggestions…

Description: 

The title of this session is taken from philosopher of technology Peter-Paul Verbeek, who says that digital technologies have some built-in assumptions about what is good to do, what functions are important, and what is the right relationship between technology and society. He calls this materialising morality. I would like to refine his approach by talking about digital interfaces and interactions, our relationship to them, and their moral and political implications. The session is divided into three main sections as follows.

1. Unforeseen effects

Digital systems don't always work how they're supposed to, people use them to do all kinds of unintended things. As devices and interfaces become more closed, and less available to transformation so the skills necessary for repurposing digital technologies are concentrated in the hands of a few people. This is why hacker labs, maker spaces and informal networks of knowledge exchange are so important.

2. Power relations

Digital technologies shape society in different ways. They prioritise certain hierarchies and moral outcomes over others. They dictate modes of behaviour, and exert various levels of control over users. They also do invisible and barely detectable things with our identities, our data, and our behaviour. A key part of this idea is that it would be more useful to think about people and digital technologies not as separate things, but as a set of relations.

3. Design

This is where we get practical. Using current and popular examples I will highlight where the problems lie and suggest some alternative approaches. This means talking about not just what designs would be good, but going on to define an emerging ethics of interface and interaction design. Design is the realm where decisions about what technology should be for, and how it should work are taken.

This session is for people who want to think more deeply about digital interfaces and interactions, their moral and political dimensions, and some suggestions for future directions.

Audio recording: 

Stage 1
Tuesday, May 3, 2016 - 16:15 to 16:45
English
Talk
Intermediate

Speakers