Humanizing Technology or Mechanizing Humans

We are living in a digital world. Integrating part by part our lives with technology and finding aid to our needs, problems, curiosity, entertainment, ailments through it. We are left amazing by how an application through the web can deliver such deceptively simple solutions to the world’s cribbing and literally take them to the world making its scalability factor incomparable. And this is only going to grow- from us to traverse from the industrial age to the information age through digitalization and computation and already amidst the discussion about our take on singularity all within 3-4 decades is amusing if not digestible. With all this, there couldn’t be a better time for us to decide what role we want to play, how has it affected our past, present and future. How have we gotten to this and have we designed it being conscious of all the three tenses?

Technology, as the definition allows, is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. But as read earlier, in ‘With As Many Holes As a Swiss Cheese’, from The Philosophy of Design, Vilem Flusser, techne means art, craft or the process of making something while logia is the study, owing to its Greek origins which then develops into technologia, in Greek meaning systematic treatment  and finally into technology in the early 17th century as we know it now. Through the ages when the meaning technology found its ground, it went through a lot of shapeshifters tending to culture, economics, nobility, usefulness aesthetics and functionality. All directly pointing at the influence of the slyly nudging study of design. Design has gone through its own history of finding a strong foot in a single field. But as we read from the chapter “The Word Design’, etymologically it indicates towards erasing of a sign, de-sign, so it does to its own meaning. Re-assessing, critically analyzing and questioning the existing are in inbuilt characteristics of design that it carries with its conceptual model. Us humans are designers and our best design is technology. We have changed the world, to a point where there is no going back. We have designed ourselves to be adaptable to this designed world. As from ‘Bare Walls’, we understand that we have designed walls of shelter, walls of information, for protection, against crimes that we ourselves design. The world was a free land, with resources for anybody able enough to consume, procure and turn around, design. But we have designed non-uniformity in resources -operations, supply chains, trades, etc.  such that vegetable sellers don’t have the resources for unlimited consumption of their own produce. We design information, aiding technology to help us work and at the same time distract us from the same work. Walls and bubbles of information so tightly guarded by algorithm making us obsessively catch on every single element of data inside it and roofs so high that even thinking of peeking out of it, expanding our bubble seems like a ridiculous effort. We have designed cultures and spirituality birthing from the ability of a human to hold on to beliefs and have collective beliefs. Such as the social structure we form coming from the mere belief described by evolution to keep us away from incestuous activities. But this design enables a channel of information flow, our need to have beliefs and pass them on. Fill gaps in our beliefs through curiosity. Curiosity beyond ethics which are mere constitutions of collective beliefs and contradictions in beliefs. We have expanded our channels of information to cover the globe. We call this knowledge, our channel to sooth our species’ curiosity. And so, we designed language to aid it and money to barter.

As designers we say we represent our users, hence we tend to emotions, subjectivity, culture, society, needs, wants, dreams and all that makes one human. But we design objectively. Summarizing people’s beliefs into personas and tending to it based on our technological capability. Are we humanizing technology or mechanizing humans? Think about it, rising in the morning to the sound of the alarm of our phones, first thing we do is check WhatsApp, lay in bed scrolling through Instagram and SnapChat going through the highlight wheel of everyone’s lives, sometimes contributing our own whilst hiding our lows not only from others but to our own self distracting ourselves with music, Youtube and digital content which is available in abundance to brutally push aside introspecting our emotions and making it impossible to pop the massive bubble of the collective belief and have one version of our own. Technological bubbles are also a reality. Our design practice of reiterating and user research has made us formulate design principles of our products to commonly accepted ethical and cultural beliefs. These provide the quality of sensitivity to our products but are the greatest limitation to technological development. To develop and grow within these walls is difficult. But does a sensitive design represent a sensitive designer? As discussed in the first reading design is deceit. We as designers deceit our beliefs to accommodate that of our consumers, who also end up feeling deceived themselves. Information is at our service whether we need it or not. So much so that we go on binge reading, searching and watching information which very efficiently caters to our curiosity and needs but many a time is also completely irrelevant. Our screen time is increasing day by day which makes it more so difficult to differentiate between work and recreation. Algorithms are shaping what we know of our own interests. Information bubbles keep us circling around cutting down exploration on an exploratory platform. From reading, writing, to making and storing memories everything is in on a screen and we are majorly influenced by it.

So what have we designed? Recursive worlds within worlds. Through building walls and breaking walls, also recursively. Although us humans have the ability to share collective knowledge, the designer in us is incapable of looking at the larger collective picture of what we create and design. One big reason is simply because we are average 5.5 feet animals in this massive land, populating it with our primary needs with greed. Why we create is a question we still need to ask ourselves. And what we create is very small against what the universe has created for us.

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