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Design Ethics

This short and intense seminar, given by Ariel Guersenzvaig has introduced us to a bunch of concepts, theories and theorists around technology.

We have talked about some very interesting concepts about technology and our relationship with it. One that has caught my attention is the multistability component of the technology. I have always been fascinated by the use of objects for purposes other than the initial design objectives. These unpredictable effects are incredible. In my area of expertise, which is the study and conservation of nature, we are using technologies designed for military, hunting and surveillance purposes. I am referring to elements such as binoculars, night scopes, tracking devices, trapping cameras, thermal cameras… If we stick strictly to the typical examples of multistability of technology, this case that I propose would seem to not be entirely a case of multistability since the function of these tools does not change. That is to say, optics for seeing up close or at night perform the same function in military use as in use for study and conservation of nature. In this case, I see the multistable component more in the change of market or target user at the time of development.


On the one hand, I am attracted to the idea of thinking that we can transform the use of elements designed for repression, control and to kill into elements for knowledge, conservation and life. This may seem cool, we are hacking the system for our purpose! But, on the other hand, what way the values with which these elements are designed are conditioning our way of working with our objects of study or conservation. What would these tools or technologies be like if they were designed from the beginning for life? How would we use them? What different things would we learn?

Concepts for further reflection
  • Technology is always present but often not evident. Even what may seem more natural to us like a forest or some cattle grazing on a mountain can have a lot of technology behind it. The “omnipresence” of technology wherever there are humans creates the technosphere that mixes with the biosphere to configure our environment. The technology context is inevitable, the technosphere is everywhere where humanity is or has passed through.

  • Technology and technosphere are the materialization of the values that society upholds. If this is so, we may ask ourselves: is technology, are technologies neutral? Can be neutral? Some authors such Lucy Suchman argue that technologies cannot be neutral because they are the fruit of social and cultural contexts that develop, use and interpret them. Or as Judy Wajcman says, technologies emphatize the power roles of those who control them, perpetuating inequalities. According to Donna Haraway, “Technology is not neutral. We’re inside of what we make, and it’s inside of us…”. Nassim Parvin and Bruno Latour también sostienen esta idea del propósito y las implicaciones de la tecnología y como esta modula las aciones humanas.

  • We have talked about hard technological determinism, according to which technological advances not only influence, but determine history, and also about soft determinism, which is situated at a more two-way point of influence between technology and humanity.

  • The mediating role of technology is also notable, how technology shapes us and how it shapes the way we see the world. How humans ainteracts with and are shaped by artifacts. Technology shape our way of see the world.

  • The different types of relationships (embodiment, hermeneutics, alterity or background, cyborg) with technology that humans can have are very interesting, in my opinion.

  • The Jevon’s paradox refers to the situation in which technical progress leads to an increase in the efficiency with which a factor of production is used, reducing the quantity required of it, but the fall in the prices of that factor promotes its demand, therefore that increases rather than decreases. This would be the case of carbon in the industrial revolution or the improvement of energy efficiency (Wikipedia).

  • Other aspects that we discussed were how design is normative, the idea of “nudge” and the forms of influence in design such as persuasive, coercive, seductive and decisive.

Some authors and references
  • Existential Technics. Don Ihde
  • The Technological Society. Jaques Ellul
  • The question concerning technology, Martin Heidegger
  • The Real world of technology, Ursula Franklin
  • Plans and situated actions, Lucy A. Suchman
  • Techno feminism. Judy Wajcman
  • Donna Haraway
  • Nassim Parvin
  • Bruno Latour
  • Design for Socially Responsible Behavior: A Classification of Influence Based on Intended User Experience.Nynke Tromp, Paul Hekkert and Peter-Paul Verbeek