Reading Response 6 / Natalie Washington

Not to get to “quote-y”, but something I was most drawn to by Dunne & Raby, was the statement:

Speculative design contributes to the reimagining not only of.. our relationship to reality. But for this to happen, we need to move beyond speculative design, to speculative everything-generating… The way the world follows on from how we think; the ideas inside our heads shape the world there. If our values , mental models, and ethics change, then the world flows from that worldview will be different, and we hope better.”

I think this succinctly indicates the role of the [responsible] designer.. or any creative for that matter.. Reimagining/manifesting an expression of a world that is a result of a better/worse or neutral future condition, draws my mind back to the reading we did on Dark Matter Trojan Horses by Dan Hill where he stated that the design world is full of “one-offs” “There are so many ideas produced every day, every- where, that installations and prototypes are almost a necessary pressure valve, a way of getting things out of one’s mind.”

It’s a  reflection of the the mental, emotional and even spiritual state we are in (society as a whole). The idea is touched on again when Dunne & Raby claim that the “era of big ideas and fantastic dreams” have passed. From what I have learned in this class, I think this is due in part  to complacency in our thinking, we have almost regressed to a dynamic of fulfilling our most instinctive wants/needs, highly due  to our hyper-commercialized and commodity-driven society.

To add to this point,  it’s interesting in  Just Design by Cameron Tonkinwise describe how even when we think we are being innovative, speculative or critical, we could very well still be repackaging regurgitated thoughts and ideas. I believe this to be true, it is easy to see in even my own rough sketching/early design work (just an example), design elements that begin to seep into a completely different project, that somehow make their way there, but don’t have much relevance in the new context. You could call it “aesthetic” or you could simply recognize how ingrained ideas can become and understand the vigilance it requires when trying to unpack an idea and manifesting it in a way that is most considerate to, what should be, a progressive concept. Every idea, every project, every movement should be progressive. It’s very inspiring.

Response 4 / Natalie Washington

Four futures had some gems in it that I found pretty interesting. Although I agree with a lot of his sentiments, I was a bit distracted by some of the of claims that were made without much statistics or facts other than direct quotes from Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s literary works. What I pulled from this text was Frase feels there is a paradoxical dilemma on the horizon, where two crises will begin to manifest in a way where we’ll see a shortage of natural resources and inhabitable land, yet major advances in technology to the point that the need or desire for human labor becomes non existent. Although I believe both of those predictions are very plausible, even simultaneously, I’d argue that they go more hand in hand than existing as contradictions. That naturally, once large corporations no longer have the need for human capital (bc of the advancements in robotic technology) they would no longer put any effort into a sustainable future for the mass majority—we would no longer be of any value or concern to them. I think his question of “will new technologies of production lead to greater free time for all, or will we remain locked into a cycle in which productivity gains only benefit the few, while the rest of us work longer than ever?”  (Four Futures, pg. 18) is an important question that we can begin looking at through a different lens—the consumer rather than the employee. Ultimately, we dictate not only how much time and energy to invest to the “few” but what technologies are being developed because of what sells.

This thought is a segue into the next reading, Accelerate: A Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics by Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams, where they discuss in point #10 of their manifesto, new and more effectives ways of “protest”,  “12. We do not believe that direct action is sufficient to achieve any of this. The habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutes for effective success. “At least we have done something” is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-esteem rather than effective action. The only criterion of a good tactic is whether it enables significant success or not. We must be done with fetishising particular modes of action. Politics must be treated as a set of dynamic systems, riven with conflict, adaptations and counter-adaptations, and strategic arms races. This means that each individual type of political action becomes blunted and ineffective over time as the other sides adapt. No given mode of political action is historically inviolable. Indeed, over time, there is an increasing need to discard familiar tactics as the forces and entities they are marshalled against learn to defend and counter-attack them effectively. It is in part the contemporary left’s inability to do so which lies close to the heart of the contemporary malaise.” (#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics, Manifest on the Future #12)

      It’d be a lie to say that I didn’t agree that tactics of the past do not carry with them the same amount of tenacity they once did. Is that really a reflection of the action/protest, or of the people themselves and the follow-through that is required? This is possibly the reason that Srnicek and Williams claim they do not believe that direct action is sufficient, and that the other side adapts over-used strategies. However, when it comes to the act of boycotting itself, I believe that could be the key to real change, ultimately relinquishing the decision-making power back to the collective, where it has really been all along. This idea reminds me of the previous reading we did of Speculative Everything “… Of course the idea of preferable is not so straightforward ; what does preferable mean, for whom, and who decides? Currently, it is determined by government and industry, and although we play a role as consumers and voters, it is a limited one. In ImaginaryFutures, Richard Barbrook explores futures as tools designed for organizing and justifying the present in the interests of a powerful minority. But , assuming it is possible to create more socially constructive imaginary futures, could design help people participate more actively as citizen-consumers? And if so, how?” (Speculative Everything, pg.6)

This ties in with “Post-Capitalism, “Project Zero”” by Paul Mason where he illustrates the idea that there is a neccessary shift to be made in the dynamic between the consumer/citizen and the state, “The next action the state could undertake is to reshape markets to favour sustainable, collaborative and socially just outcomes. If you set the feed-in tariff on solar panels high, people will install them on their roofs. But, if you don’t specify that they don’t have to come form a factory with high social standards, the panels will get made in China, generating fewer wider social benefits beyond the energy switch.” ( Post-Capitalism, “Project Zero, pg.274)

An  article outside of the listed readings, titled, An Anti-Capitalist Approach to Fashion, at one point states,  “Members of the audience wanted to know what they could do to address some of the issues raised – particularly with the Rana Plaza collapse being much discussed. Should they boycott certain stores?  Should they stop consuming altogether?  The resounding conclusion was none of the above.  Boycotts were seen as outdated and numerous examples were given whereby garment workers had denounced the idea of boycotts, fearing for their jobs. Again and again the point was reiterated that we are citizens, rather than consumers. This means that we should think beyond our purse strings, beyond consumer power, looking to a more ethical and perhaps moral response, that departs from a compassionate form of consumption – as citizens we are not, and should not be defined by what we buy.  At the same time, never before has it been so important for designers to think about what and how they design, a point that was also made during the evening’s discussion.” 

Although it is a perspective that holds some integrity, I can’t say relying on people’s better moral judgement is sure enough to reverse the amount of conditioning we have experienced as consumer-citizens. I think boycotting has potential to serve as an effective catalyst for change; not only does it encourage one to practice restraint (usually from a luxury we enjoy or accustomed to, practicing a more minimal lifestyle) but it also encourages the demand for goods/services and practices that are sustainable and ideal for all.

New Tech / Natalie Washington

|New Tech/Science Research|

Subvocalization is a form of speech that takes place on a cognitive level; we do it all day as we perform daily tasks such as calculating the items at a grocery store or silently reading to ourself. As we “sound” out the words in our minds, the muscles in our face naturally contract with movements that are not perceivable to anyone or even ourselves. Pairing these neuromuscular signals with a custom, wearable, silent-speech interface, graduate students at MIT have created a computing device that allows the user to communicate to people, apps or other devices without using your voice or any discernible movement at all.
“ We present a wearable silent speech interface that allows a user to provide arbitrary text input to a computing device or other people using natural language…of the user’s own cognition by enabling a silent, discreet and seamless conversation with machines and people, in likeness to the user talking to her own self.”

Arnav and Shreyas Kapur are the creators of the device and the basis of their research is founded on the idea of machines becoming a natural extension of the human persona, opposed to the more external use and function we have of them today. This device is intended to represent a step towards the [potential] symbiotic relationship between man and machine in everyday life.

A comforting aspect about this device is that it is reliant upon neuromuscular facial signals only, and does not have access to private information or “thought” the way that fMRIs and EEG interfaces do (typically used for medical purposes), so the user can essentially control what data is being inputed.

I am taking a psychology course this semester and this brought to mind the philosophy of monism vs. dualism, where the debate is between whether or not the mind is somehow different or separate from our physical being. If you align with the philosophy of monism, you would deduce that there is an inherent feature that machine could never truly possess; if you align with dualism, you would lean more towards the notion that the “mind” (I’ll use air quotes) is strictly the result of the activity of nerves cells, similar to the way a machine operates. —My question is how necessary to mankind is this augmented version of man through machine? Under the dualist philosophy I could see where these strides would be necessary to our existence, providing a “natural” progression or segue into a form of society that ensures our preservation in the most efficient way possible, and under the monist philosophy I could see it inhibiting our developed capabilities of being able to read and respond to human creativity, thought and emotion through mirror neurons and “empathy,” (one of the very things that nature provided us and interestingly enough, sets us apart from the rest of it.) In that sense, I think this sort of device would be most appropriate for specific functions only and possibly as a luxury/leisure item.
Just as one could lose the skill of reading human facial features (as we talked about in class) this threatens our skills of communicating effectively to one another as well as completing simple, physical tasks. I imagine a world where our interpersonal skills are waning to such a degree that we will be completely reliant on machines to interact for us and dependent upon them to produce anything of substance in every other area.

Video on AlterEgo

Incidental-Capitalism/Natalie Washington

The Freecycle network is recognized by millions around the globe as a movement that reinstalls a sense of generosity and community for its members. For over 15 years, Freecycle has partnered with everyday people to structure a system of giving second-hand items that are at no cost for the members. With nearly zero marginal costs (the rest taken care of in the form of donations) what is more impressive about Freecycle is its mission to reduce the amount of gently used or brand new items that end up in landfills—at which they have been more than successful, keeping over 1,000 tons of gently used/brand new items out of landfills, daily. Freecycle is about creating an alternative way of meeting a persons needs/“demands” with profit being of no concern; creating a sustainable way to make products accessible to people who live in your local community. The way it works initially is through individuals signing up for a free membership: once you’re signed up, you can enter either your city, state or zip code to find groups in your local area. Once completed, you have access to items that are being given away at no cost to you; often left for pick-up on the doorsteps or the front yards of the members who are giving the items away. Items that require a little more maintenance in transporting, such as sofas, large appliances etc. are offered some assistance by local volunteers within the group.

A way in which I think this system could be expanded on is through offering a listing of local services that are willing to participate in an “equal” exchange of services. Either services could be “donated” and therefore reserved for those who are in need, or an exchange could be made through members who deem their trade as equivalent. In this extension, there are no accomplishments being made in an environmental-sense necessarily, however the opportunities it would provide to bolster the reliance upon local businesses would be very promising.


•Short animated video by Freecycle. •Freecycle website



Reading Response 3/ Natalie Washington

Author Dan Hill, in his book entitled, “Dark matter and Trojan Horses A Strategic Design Vocabulary”, presents a challenge to designers to begin creating as a result of the design’s context in its’ outermost sense. He begins by asserting that design, to be truly effective, must engage with the “politics” of the norm, the conventional standards of an establishment, or learned practices, and so on. What I found provocative was the very last sentence in the intro, that states, “effective design…may mean redesigning the organization that hires you.” I thought that was important to note because of its implication that disturbing dark matter is something that could be done as an employee/hired designer (wage slave), and further, that positioning possibly even being more effective, because of your relative closeness and knowledge and familiarity of the underlying issues/structure. This made me think that the potential influence you could have over that organization greatly increases if you indeed are a part of the machine, and are respected by the org., (versus marching out front with a picket sign). This is a solution per the discussion we had last class that called attention to the cognitive dissonance one faces when working for a firm that appeals to a commercial market (how unfulfilling and counterproductive it could be to one’s “bigger picture” or values.) I think if you can find a company whose overall mission and values align with yours, that may have fallen subject to or incorporated capitalistic practices/ideals, you have an opportunity to observe it’s inner workings and the dark matter’s effects/influence on every facet of the company. This could very well still include climbing the corporate latter (and by then, would your values remain unchanged?) I don’t have the answers, I guess it would all rely on if you have the interest in/endurance to engage and undertaking that challenge; it’s a grand idea but it’s definitely something to consider.

After describing what dark matter essentially “is”, Hill goes on to emphasize the difference between temporary ideas vs. ideas that would have the ability to grow as a result (or representation) of the permanent and influential change within a system. He describes the relationship as something that is symbiotic, stressing that the artefact must be successfully executed, and just as significant as the very change made into the dark matter itself. This ties in with the previous optional reading, “Speculative Design: Criteria and Motivations” by James Auger that speaks to designers about the potential consequences of producing an artifact that is not holistic and substantial in its’ approach to demonstrating the benefit of change to the dark matter. Although Hill takes a more dismissive approach to this discussion, deeming such prototypes or installations as “one-offs,” Auger takes a more cautionary approach, warning designers of the misinterpretaion that can come as a result of design that fails to embody its deeper justifications or benefits.

Speculative design is immature and evolving, and as such its boundaries, definition, and purpose at best lack focus, and at worst are simply misunderstood. Speculative design projects are commonly related to the technological future, but not always; they use fiction in some way, but it is not necessarily apparent, and its practice takes diverse forms, on various scales and with numerous goals. The spectacular and provocative nature of many projects results in broad dissemination that raises the profile of the approach, but fundamentally neglects its (potentially) deeper justifications or benefits. Complicating matters further is its close relation to other practices such as design fiction and critical design, which leads to assumptions that its raison d’être or approach is the same.” (Auger)

This is an idea worth comparing any project against even in relation to the first concept I spoke about in this response (attempting to change an organization’s dark matter from the inside). With this approach to design being relatively new, it’s important to consider the consequences of falling short of your intention. Below is a link to a public discussion had by young designers about  “Speculative Design in the Real World” where designers that practice this work in this field of design, had an opportunity to discuss this.

Speculative Design in the “Real World” (public discussion)

Reading Response 2 / Natalie Washington

In James Fulcher’s “Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction,” Fulcher begins to unfold the early stages of capitalism, pointing out how the innerworkings of the system, was what enabled it to flourish in 17th, 18th and 19th century Europe. Very dependent upon already-wealthy merchants and aristocratic influence, Fulcher illustrates early-capitalism’s natural progression into monopolistic practices to secure shareholders risky investment’s within trade. Other early aspects include the practice of revenue incurred by the state through it’s exchange of customs duties and the introduction of manipulating the market by leveraging supply v. demand, allowing merchants to significantly drive up prices as well negatively influence their competitor’s abilities to make profits by flooding the market at will.

In Anti-Capitalism by Simon Tormey, we are afforded an understanding of the market in relation to capitalism. Tormey lays a very neutral foundation before justifying his points as to why capitalistic production is not an ideal practice as it relates to, what he calls, the “human experience.” He starts with a brief review of the history of buying and selling labour power, which in the era of feudalism, was done through the ownership of a person, which gave way to our modern means of employing labour power, through the purchase of labour from an individual. Clarifying the distinction between slave and laborer was an interesting and uncomfortable element to point out within this discussion because it quickly brought to mind a statement made in the previous text by Fulcher, Karl Marx’s coined term “wage slaves” that highlighted the illusion of freedom that is granted to laborers through the ability to make a choice where or if one works. As Tormey progresses, he reminds us of the alternative [economic] way of life referred to as “subsistence’, emphasizing its rationale and it’s demise in popularity, due to the violent spread of capitalistic ideals during Britain’s early conquests. The idea of subsistence reminded me of the more contemporary lifestyle of “minimalism,” the practice of possessing only enough materials one would need in order to live “contently.” Obviously, the idea/word has been somewhat reduced to it’s more ephemeral sense, but it got me to thinking about the statistic of the 51%  of Americans between 18-25 years not being satisified with capitalism. It ties in to the previous readings by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby in “Speculative Everything” in there assertion that today’s dreams have been downgraded into “hopes.”Almost as if living a “minimalistic lifestyle” offers one hope towards a more enriching experience. Usually looked at through a more fashion or artistic lens (referring to myself), what I’ve deduced from these texts (as this is concerned) I think the minimalist trend is more indicative of a result of this idea of “dreamless-ness” utilizing hope to achieve the feeling of regaining control in any area that is possible; ultimately reducing the amount of consumption that takes place as a result of overworking, for almost no other reason, that to consume more—feeding into the “idea” that there is no such thing as enough. Once relinquishing this idea (and questioning where, how, and by whom was it instilled) you regain control over the one thing that indeed does separate a slave from a laborer—which is freedom over oneself and one’s time.