Week 11 — Theories of Media and Technology

I found our discussion today in class to be insightful; it was interesting to see everyone’s perspective on the world and its social institutions. I think what I found most intriguing regarding this discussion is how it affects us as designers. It brings up this notion regarding our ethics as designers and engineers. I think it’s safe to say that we play a role in molding the perception of things and perpetuating certain ideologies, such as politics. A lot of times, when designers, engineers, in particular, design or have the desire to create something, they forget the more significant infrastructure they are penetrating. I would most commonly associate this with designers or engineers, design something that a community doesn’t need or doesn’t want. There’s this saying that every time there’s a problem, a Computer Science major designs just another application that no one wants. And in another light, there are times where designers design something that has harmful impacts on societies that could’ve been inadvertent but also truly harmful to communities. I immediately think of things like physical infrastructure and its relation to gentrification. Here, there’s this desire to “revive the community,” and they end up pushing the people out who do live there. It’s essential to understand the social dimensions related to whatever your intervention might be, but first, that also comes with understanding your biases, the company you work for, values, etc. Then comes again the question of where the designer fits within this, because typically, the designer is working for a company, so their values to do something might not be aligned with the company’s values.

We spent a lot of time reflecting on the Polak Game and sort of teasing out our beliefs within the overall system: government, industry, and personal responsibility. I found myself to be quite pessimistic when it came to thinking that industry will play a significant role in making things better within society; I also found the government to do the same. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be radical; I think I’m more so of a practical radical. I appreciate bold and bright ideas, but at the same time, I understand the complexities of implementation and getting things done, so yes, I do value compromises. And with that notion, I don’t necessarily believe that government or industry will play a significant role in redefining the paradigm of society, mainly because there’s so much compromise. The problem here is that there are so many different viewpoints on the role of government and industry, a lot of which is rooted in white supremacy and the preservation of whiteness. And when you have a system whose foundation is rooted in preserving the white race, I don’t see how any proposal will make any effective change without literally burning everything down and starting over.

To illustrate further, a lot of social change, at least more recently, comes from social movements using social media. Social media has allowed us to spread messages instantly and gather support for different causes more rapidly. However, industry and government have always been slow to change. There’s this saying, “don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” and even with that notion, government and industry are still slow. It takes a lot to transformational change, especially when industry and government are against the change. I do think it’s possible, but it would definitely have to be more radical. To bring back my point regarding designers and engineers, we then work for these industries. These are industries that ignore obvious wrongs occurring in a society that also has the power to affect change. Is it ethical for a designer to continue to work for those companies and not spread the truth? I couldn’t imagine being a designer and working for FoxNews, for instance.

But even more so, what if the designers themself values are rooted in white supremacy. And the designers continue to perpetuate problematic values through their designs by working for specific industries.

For me, it’s the entire system; it’s hard to make any change within industry and government because there’s so much to do. And then when you’re one individual person working for an industry, you also have a goal of making sure you still have a job, so there’s just very little wiggle room to make an impact truly. I still think it is possible, don’t get me wrong, but it takes a lot of sacrifices to really effect change and go against the norms. Hopefully, one day, I’ll finally see it illustrated in society.

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