How Do We Recognize and Create the Ideologies in Electronic Objects?

And How Do We Find Their Alternative Purposes?

For the December 1 meeting of the Digital Scholars Reading group, Rob Duarte will join us to discuss the relationship between technology and people, focusing on the implicit ideologies that are assimilated into their making. His project “Prototype for a Machine that Inserts Razor Blades into Apples” asks us to consider the absurdity not only of machines that outright state their potential harm, but also of the technologies that we rely upon daily. How can we recognize the ideologies behind our use or employment of electronic objects and how does making them transparent provide us with answers about how to use them differently–even when doing so complicates the most seemingly mundane?

Through Dunne and Raby’s synthesizing the use of imaginative speculation (such as in film and literature), we can support our discussion of the relationship between man and machine by thinking of the complexities of working with and around the perceived and actual limitations of technology. Electrical objects at face value are often placed in a vacuum where we can only see it for its initial purpose and not for any other uses. The easily accessible function and programming of technology limit the challenge of its users to further expand our perception of the world and view technology narrowly. This “user-friendliness” minimizes our ability to expand its uses because they are reductionist and limits our creativity. Dunne discusses how this streamlining leads to a dependence of people to their technologies in his work Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design.

When the phrase “enslaved to the machine” is said, I tend to think of the familiar dystopian scenery mentioned in Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. The advancement of technology surpasses its creators and humanity witnesses the political ideologies that were all along just behind the surface of their electrical faces. Dunne’s Hertzian Tales provides us with questions about the transparency of our technologies political ideologies. Any utopian technology would function as most believe they do, which is apolitical. However, the reality we face as creators is that our ideologies are implicitly assimilated into the objects that we create.

Utopia, an ideal discussed further by Dunne and Raby is noted by Erik Olin Wright as an impossibility, a fantasy “morally inspired designs for a humane world of peace and harmony unconstrained by realistic considerations of human psychology and social feasibility” but we are encouraged to continue striving for it. There have been notorious individuals who have attempted this and have failed. However, when it comes to innovation in technology and art, this desire for progress is valuable. It’s not so much the pursuit of making Utopia real but the pursuit of getting as close as possible so the alternatives are visible.

These alternatives to the functions of technology as we know them are apparent in Charles Dodge’s use of a speech-synthesize computer, originally used for speech research, to “Speech Songs“. This creative use of technology for its unintended purpose exemplifies the ideologies of a machine and just one of the ways a machine can be alternatively used to create something new and interesting. I viewed this project as also answering the question “When does the purpose that a technology serves in our lives become more valuable than the technology itself?” If the purpose of a technology is altered or expanded upon it continues to remain valuable. It is however up to its creators and users to determine the alternative purpose a technology provides.

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