TECHNOLOGY MUST NOT SUPPORT “A CULTURE OF COMPLIANCE”

Thought-provoking piece in Boing-Boing today that compares the evolving through leadership of a pair of female engineers and tech designers, Ursula Franklin and Meredith Whittaker, who explore the ways that technology can (and can’t) make the world a better place. 

Franklin’s work is drawn from a series of lectures, where her foundational premise is based upon the idea that portions of technology limits the actions of people who use it, which inherently ripens the world for other kinds of control, such as political authoritarianism.

One central point that caught our eye is unsettling and feels on the mark: Even as technology talent creates cool tools and revolutionary techniques, it also creates a world in which “it’s normal to do what we’re told, and to do so without the ability to control and shape the process or the outcome.”

In other words, in order to make technology work, you always have to follow a certain pattern of behaviors -- go here, click this, fill in that. Even the most revolutionary news website, if you want to get on their mailing list, you have to follow a series of defined behaviors, for example.

In this way, the technological structure of many modern products creates an innate “culture of compliance . . . ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal and to accept that there is only one way of doing ‘it.’”

Franklin’s ultimate concern is that, as a “byproduct” of what we call progress, we have created societies easily ruled and monitored— and accustomed to following orders whose ends they don’t question.

We don’t highlight this story from a Luddite’s perspective, but only as a cautionary tale to keep in mind as we create, design and build in our brave new world. Nobody wants to stop the train, we just want to be riding with our heads out the window so we can see what’s coming.