Beyond technology: the intersection between society, technology and design | by Faisal Risq | February 2022

How we shape our technology and how our technology shapes us

New technological concepts are emerging at such a frenetic rate that they are impossible to predict. Not too long ago we were talking about Tesla’s electric car, Web3, or the idea of ​​GPT-3, which enhanced artificial intelligence. We are now discussing the metaverse.

When we discuss futuristic technological concepts and ideas, it sounds quite fascinating. It will not stop since we live in the center of human utopia and ambition.

So far we are looking at a separate object with a distant relationship between society and technology, which I will try to study in this article from the broader perspective of computer science and social science. Since the dawn of modern technology, our lifestyles have changed.

The development of innovations cannot be isolated from the advancement of earlier inventions. Consider this: paper was developed in China around the 2nd century, a printing press around 1200, and the Gutenberg press, which started the literacy boom, was discovered around 1440. Subsequently, knowledge and the ideas spread all over the world. It took 13 centuries from the development of paper to be able to publish it as a printed book, forever changing human access to information.

Let’s go back to the history of digital technology. In 1939 a computer was created and some people took advantage of this technological advancement. Shannon and Turing used computers to play chess, while scientists such as Von Neumann used computers to create mathematics and military technology. Then to the significant invention of the Internet in 1983. It’s insane. We just need 44 years to reach this level of innovation. Consider the history of printed books.

Raymond Kurzweil, MIT computer scientist, futurist and entrepreneur, said technological developments are exponential when plotted on a historical graph. Historically, innovation has accelerated over time. In other words, the time period between major technical advances continues to shorten.

Graphs that explain technological developments are exponential when plotted on a historical chart.  Historically, innovation has accelerated over time.

The Law of Accelerating Returns, as Kurzweil explains, states that more complex life forms evolved exponentially faster, with ever shorter intervals between the appearance of fundamentally new life forms. In many areas, levels of human intellect have been created in a certain method to accomplish an efficient way to solve a problem. This trend will lead to a huge rise in technology in the 21st century, which will change the way we live, frame and obtain information.

As we described in the last part, innovation has been inspired by societal problems that arise on a daily basis. Technology helps us overcome barriers that limit what we can do. According to social determinism, technology is created and changed in response to the wants and needs of society.

The theory of social shaping of technology, takes shape in several areas of social sciences such as;  anthropology, cultural studies, political science, political studies, history of technology, innovation studies (management of technology and evolution of the economy), and also sociology

Some areas of the social sciences encourage us to develop technological inventions to solve social problems that arise from time to time.

Then there are those humanities philosophers who take a different approach to this subject, such as technological determinism, which holds that technology is the source of social change, shaping individuals and their society.

Edmund Carpenter’s anthropological research on the impact of technology on our social life today is clear. He arrived at the Papua New Guinea border in 1960. When he attempted to take a Polaroid photo of a local person and give it to them, comments from him made it clear that the media and the technology played an important role.

Edmund Carpenter attempted to take a polaroid photo of a local person and gave it to them
Guy with the hat is suddenly embarrassed by his hat.  He hesitantly takes it off, replaces it uncomfortably, and finally stands uncomfortably with his cap, staring at the photo.

The photo shows that the guy with the hat is suddenly embarrassed by his hat. He hesitantly takes it off, replaces it uncomfortably, and finally stands uncomfortably with his cap, staring at the photo.

And there’s the guy who just spent 20 minutes looking at his picture.

A guy who just spent 20 minutes looking at his picture at home.

Carpenter refers to their emotions as “terror of self-consciousness”, as indicated by an “uncontrolled stomach tremor”. He defines the depth of the effect as “instantaneous alienation”, suggesting that he “created a new identity: the private individual”. He said that Polaroid and other recording media produced a scenario in which “for the first time each individual clearly saw himself and his surroundings, and he saw them as separable”.

He returned to these villages after 35 years and immediately realized that he did not recognize the place. The houses had been rebuilt in a new way. They had gone from tribal beings to disconnected, lonely, frustrated individuals and were no longer at home – anywhere.

His argument is that we live in a world completely dominated by technology. But do we really understand how they influence us? We often think of them as wonderful luxuries, wonderful conveniences, necessary requirements, or sources of worthwhile pursuits. But how do they influence us?

To understand the interaction between these two domains, society and technology, one must consider the two as a whole. We need to identify the connection while considering the bigger picture. Technology develops due to societal issues, but also affects society.

We shape our tools and our tools shape us.

— Marshall McLuhan, philosopher and communication theorist

It encourages a mutual shaping between technology and society, which collaborate to drive change and collectively shape each other. It is essential to recognize the influence of the social and technological context of development on innovation choices.

Michael Wesch’s Barel model can be used as an example to examine the impact of technology on society and vice versa. I came up with the idea of ​​including a design field as a tool that helps connect these two sides.

Charts that explain how society will affect infrastructure, social structure, and superstructure.  And design as a tool to connect these two areas.

With the mutual shaping theory discussed in the previous section, a society is a big part of the change that happens in different ways.

  • Infrastructure (technology and engineering)in which technologies are used as tools to help us solve everyday problems.
  • Social structure (family, relationships, politics and economy)through which we connect, collaborate and interact.
  • Superstructure (Ideas, Ideals, Values ​​and Beliefs)where we can engage in a variety of cultural transformations that result in new core values ​​and beliefs.

When society pushes the infrastructure to make a technological improvement, it can affect other parts above it, like how we build relationships around us, how technology itself can be used as a tool politics, and further, how technology can influence the concept and idea of ​​human civilization. And it will flow back into society itself, influencing our behavior, cognition, and culture.

Humans as part of society are complex entities that can influence our technology as well as technology, which is a complex and ever-changing landscape. To manufacture and recover technology that will change our society, we must be open-minded and willing to work with people from different fields.

We could live in this situation. Not by rejecting the technology, but by perceiving its consequences.

— Martin Heidegger, philosopher

Design will be at the crossroads of society and technology, examining how social issues arise in society and linking them to innovations to help them solve the problems.

Many of these issues are ill-defined; it is unclear what the problem is and what a solution to the problem would entail. People frequently change their behavior or behave differently due to widespread societal concerns.

The design is a activity subject to rational scrutiny but in which creativity is also considered to play an important role.

The design process chart which explains the rational part of the design and the creative part of the design.
  • The rational part of the design is to ask questions about societal problems, then find the root of the problem and develop questions to make a decision from the many solution choices that have been created to make the best decision for the company.
  • The creative aspect of design is to explore as many ideas as possible that can be used to solve societal problems.

Design has an essential role as a method of translating social issues. Designers can make more strategic and sensible decisions by integrating behavioral and cultural data. Then they will try to deepen the idea, which can be a solution to the social problem. They will turn it into a technical requirement, allowing engineers to apply it as a solution influencing social life.

Design is thought of as a decision-making process controlled by practical concerns of rationality.

Back to the breakneck speed of today’s modern technology, which will have a significant effect on our society in the near future. With the development of Metaverse, AI, Web3 and other technologies in the near future, there is a lot of debate about whether our society is ready for this, we must know:

It is important to consider how this concept will influence our interactions with technology as well as our psychology, behavior and economy. Let’s think about it!

Reference

Larson, EJ (2021). The myth of artificial intelligence: why computers can’t think like us. Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press.

Carpenter, E. (1973). Oh, what a blow that ghost gave me. Holt, Reinhart & Wilson.

Zalta, EN, Nodelmen, U., Allen, C., Ardenson, RL (2018). Philosophy of technology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Wesch, M. (2018). The art of being human: a textbox for cultural anthropology. New Prairie Press.

Harari, NY (2015). Sapiens: a brief history of mankind. Vintage

About Raymond A. Bentley

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