Week 12 — Theories of Media and Technology
I’ll admit this class was a bit difficult for me to understand, but there were a few points that I found interesting in the readings and during class that I wanted to reflect on.
In thinking about our roles as designers and their relationship to decolonization and cosomotechnics, it relates back to last week when I discussed the social context of the design extensively. When we are designing, there are many social dynamics at play with regards to political, historical, cultural, etc., implications that we could face. And then when you think about this in a geographical sense, there are certain differences between cultures and peoples where our western values of technology are not accepted. During class, I thought about something we talked about previously in a former STS class of mine regarding our response to the Ebola virus in Africa.
And as designers, we have to think. During that time, we came in. Because of the contagious nature of the Ebola virus, even post-death, the protocols were to separate the body from the family and ensure that no one was to get infected. However, in that particular culture, the body was essential to the griefing process as certain things had to be done in order for the family to move on within that culture. I don’t remember specifically, but that was the gist of the situation. So when we came in with our Western values of medicine, we were interrupting their grief process, as some of them viewed, not having access to the body, worse than contracting the Ebola virus itself. It shows that when designing processes and systems, there are specific values associated with them that others might not share. It begs the question, how can we ensure that when we are designing that these layers are thought about. It’s the same as now, even in America, when there are specific social media posts that are racist and offensive to others or particular phrases that are tone-deaf, there’s a lot of things to consider when we design. Design isn’t just about creating the nicest graphic or coming up with the most attractive catchphrase. The design has an impact because it’s something that a lot of people interact with, and design is to change and impact culture socially, so designing must understand their role in that and ensure that they are taking that into consideration when they are designing such things.
More recently, we’ve seen many initiatives for companies to have diversity training and such for their staff and extensive training for their Public Relations team because there’s been a push now to ensure that things that go out are not insensitive. They are starting to recognize the impact of what they put out. Yes, there’s also been a push more recently where people are more aware of how certain things can be insensitive and have negative connotations associated with them. And you also have a certain something that is happening in history that’s also causing this shift, including racism in America, police brutality, and other things, including COVID and the rise of discrimination among the Asian community. All of which goes to show that as a nation, we’re becoming more culturally aware and understanding of the impact, and I attribute some of that to the way we’re designing.
However, I also see design as something that might be a graphic or a product and systems. And currently, systems that are in place are not designed in a way to consider these different things. There are dominant views within industries that have been the norm for so many years, and it’s hard to make any changes. If we look at science, certain things could be relevant in terms of how certain things were understood to be, that we know now, and find them to be problematic. For example, if we think about the way women are portrayed in science, it’s a very male-centric view and reinforces negative stereotypes and connotations that are simply not true. But then again, it’s also important to realize what the social context was back then and why those things came to be. Of course, it’s not right, but it’s relevant to understanding why things are the way they are.
I think the lesson reinforced for me that there’s a ton of social and historical context that should be taken into consideration when designing. As designers, we have to work to break those things associated with negative connotations because we are part of redefining and defining history.