Were you worried about adding to the noise, as a designer and creative technologist?
In my time at THNK, I made a point of asking provocative questions about the design of contemporary intelligent technology—the Internet, mobile devices, immersive displays and wearables—as an “encoding of a kind of moral and political structure with an attendant social contract,” as new media artist David Rokeby first described. I realized that it is my responsibility to not only reflect upon emerging technology and its effect on cultural values and behavior, but to contribute to a counter-discourse and a design practice that challenges and transforms emerging technology.
That’s quite a balance to strike—to love technology and want to propel it forward, while at the same time being aware of the value in scaling back. Most of us feel this way as individuals, but your work requires you to address both sides systematically. Where do you begin?
Technology gives us so much — even non-profits that I’ve worked with invest large portions of their limited budgets to fund new media strategies that translate their constituents, essentially, into data sets. Some organizations have bought into “neuro-campaigning”—the latest mass persuasion technique, which “replaces gut instinct with data-driven order” for social control. Even with the best of intentions, change agents, too, are unwittingly reinforcing systems of oppression caused by our dependence upon technology.
After Module 4, I went completely off the grid to the coast of Maine à la Thoreau. I had to detox from all social media and most technology in order to reflect, through direct experience, upon the socio-cultural and neurobiological impacts of intelligent technology. I had to unplug, to prioritize offline interaction. That’s when I realized that, in order for large-scale “mind and heart” shift to happen, we have to first restore critical feeling.
Unknowingly, we have become APIs run by protocols and algorithms. Invisible technologies clog our working memory, decreasing our ability to empathize. Clinical studies have shown that the areas in our brains responsible for both emotion activation and knowledge production—the amygdala and hippocampus—are being eroded by current technology. Interestingly, the same areas of the brain are restored through mindfulness and kinesthetic engagement. This is why expressive technology, like the Xth Sense, is so important; it offers the potential to re-stimulate “numbed” areas of the mind and body through sonic vibration.