week 13

Our last week of readings and discussion yielded some really interesting and rewarding insights. From Design Pedagogies, the quote, “”As feminist scholar Jo Freeman notes in her classic article “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” too often the pretense of a flat structure serves primarily not to truly flatten power dynamics, but simply to mask them” brought me back to much earlier in the semester, in the cybernetics documentary that mentioned the struggles of communes to not recreate harmful power dynamics in their communities. Whether this is something that malicious people set out to do when joining or creating decentralized groups, or an unintentional failure to adapt to a different structure, it seems like it’s something groups have to always be conscious of, and carefully plan against. Another quote from that reading that stuck out to me was, “For Du Bois, in a phrase that he would repeat in multiple speeches and writings, “The object of education was not to make [people] carpenters, but to make carpenters [people].” Following Du Bois, we might ask of the recent emphasis on learning to code: Is the ultimate object to make people good coders, or to make coders good people?” This feels very emblematic of this class, and even IDM as a whole — it’s not enough to just create things without questioning the human side (both of your audience and of yourself as a designer).

Racial Bias in Technology was also rife with memorable pieces, in this case as examples of technologies that can and do perpetuate harm. The most significant to me was the mention that the Citizen app used to be called Vigilante — such a telling slip if your mission is (supposedly) to make communities safer, which betrays a more pernicious goal of surveillance. The rebranding is extremely clever, not just giving the app some better PR, but also working to create a direct parallel between policing and citizenship (being a good citizen means surveilling your neighborhood). As a counterpoint to this, the example of a “White-Collar Early Warning System” is very effective at illuminating what types of crime create more fear in our current landscape, regardless of how often they happen, how much impact they have, and how much punishment they carry as a response. In addition to subversive experiments like that, Benjamin’s concluding thought that “If inequity is woven into the very fabric of society then each twist, coil, and code is a chance for us to weave new patterns, practices, politics. Its vastness will be its undoing once we accept that we are pattern makers” stood out as a galvanizing way of coming to terms with these issues and working to undermine them. 

In the lecture, I really enjoyed hearing about Sasha’s experience and work. I was inspired by the Design Justice Principles, and particularly enjoyed seeing them translated into several languages (including Portuguese!). I did catch myself thinking the Portuguese translation felt a little stiff (even wondering at points if it was specifically European Portuguese, though it didn’t seem like it in the end) — maybe it’s a product of not being exposed to the design industry in Brazil and being familiar with certain words, but I had the impression that certain parts stayed a little too faithful to the original English syntax, at the expense of a more fluid reading experience. It wasn’t detrimental to the translation, but it got me thinking about the challenge of balancing original content and taking more liberties as an adaptation. From our class discussion, I was inspired by Sasha’s thoughts in response to my question about convincing stakeholders of the importance of accessibility issues. The techniques she mentioned, from creating a power mapping alignment to some more subversive ways of creating outside pressure, were all very interesting and helpful. 

Moving onto the final project, this week I was able to edit my video and practice my presentation. The video turned out to be a lot longer than I’ll have time for, since I wasn’t sure how long our presentations would be when I started planning the script. I do like the final result more with three scenes rather than just one (which, given the background I’ll need to explain the concept, is what I’m expecting to be able to show). I think it gives the video some more variety, and helps the audience empathize more with the participants (rather than potentially assume only one couple would be having paperwork issues). This was a really rewarding project from start to finish — it’s a subject I deeply care about, and it was very fun to film and edit since I took a more lighthearted route. I’m very excited to show it to the class, and to be able to see what everyone else has created over the course of the semester!