Reading Response 6 / Shelbi Howard

Design holds purpose beyond styling the look and feel of objects. Design should not only inform the final aesthetic for consumer appeal, but have a hand in determining the impact that the product or message has on the future of humanity. As can be seen with the K-Cup fiasco, designers who do not consider the system that the outcome of their work lives within can have a huge negative impact on the future of the planet and society. A strong designer is capable of owning and making ethical decisions about the future of material culture through the utilization of multiple design disciplines’ practices including the ability to analyze: Futures, fiction, speculation, criticism, provoking users, creating discourse, interrogation, probing, and play.

This is especially important as technology becomes further imbued in the products we make. Designers are not only impacting consumer culture but the networks and languages that our products use to communicate with us and one another. More than ever before, new languages of interaction from gesture to voice are creating new paradigms for design to influence. These emerging horizons in technology and products are no longer influencing the world around us, but building a new technology society composed of non-human users, such as sensors and other machines, in addition to our own human impact. Designing for products and systems is becoming infinitely more complex while also becoming more imperative that we are considering the outcome of our actions.

Now is the time to begin questioning what society not only will look like in 10, 25, or 50 years but to determine how designers can influence a better future to avoid the dystopian tech-controlled hellscape that sci-fi has predicted. By criticizing, future-casting, and speculating through design methodologies that focus beyond immediate consumerism, designers can create the dialogue and draw attention to dire issues for our future well-being. From the ominous “black stack” metaphor of our future technology megastructure, we now not only have to worry about the selling potential of technical products but the access, legislation, and safety of the system that contains that technology.

Not only our products, but the systems they compose are becoming smarter, larger, and infinitely more complex than we can anticipate. Design has the potential to influence the concept, structure, and end point of the growing connectivity web if we assume the responsibility of questioning and strategizing our actions now before it becomes over-complex and detrimental. Through the practice of discursive design, that analyzes the material world in this way, we are able to take a seat at the table and assume responsibility for the products we add to the growing infrastructure of our future.


Note: I read The Black Stack by Benjamin H. Bratton as my optional reading for this assignment.

Reading Response 5 / Shelbi Howard

Erik Olin Wright presents a systematic approach to anti-capitalist alternatives in a world where he posits that capitalism is the source of social blight. He believes that this is resolvable and capitalism is not the only option. Through a process of the three following steps he proposes a theoretical way to assess and begin to achieve social change: “the diagnosis and critique of society tells us why we want to leave the world in which we live, the theory of alternatives tells us where we want to go, and the theory of transformation tells us how to get from here to there”.

This is a very pragmatic view of the reality of economic systems that accounts for unintended consequences, imperfect conditions, and current economic structures allowing for the discussion and possible implementation of a realistic utopian solution capable of creating a democratic egalitarian socio-economic system. Wright’s argument is very convincing as it addresses the complexity of the issue without idealizing true utopian ideals. His discussion has its foundation in historical movements and sociological truths that assess the reality of the situation from an honest, yet optimistic, viewpoint.

An important example that Wright uses in his presentation of “How to Be an Anti-Capitalist for the 21st Century” explains the history of economic change from the feudal to capitalist systems as a result of slowly eroding feudal values with capitalist activities. These activities allowed capitalism to slowly overtake feudalism as a result of independent strategies that were organized around decision-makers’ own self interest. The consideration of personal interest is a key factor in the unintended consequences of large-scale systemic decisions. Wright’s inclusion of these historical human behaviors that led to socio-economic shifts created the  foundation and reputability of his theoretical process of transformation.

Additionally, the slow, selfish shift from feudalism can be viewed as a similar process to what is occurring today in capitalism with the slowly expanding existence of the sharing economy. Similar to the spread of capitalism through economic need and convenience, millennials today are choosing to leave the middle class values of physical asset collection for the convenience of accessing goods where and when they want them.

The sharing economy has been defined as “consumers granting each other temporary access to under-utilized physical assets (idle capacity), possibly for money.” by Koen Frenken, professor in innovation studies at Utrecht University, and Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College. This is similar to, but does not include, the gig economy where services are ordered on demand. By this definition, Uber would be considered a part of the gig economy while Turo, a car-sharing platform, is a part of the sharing economy.

Not only is the sharing economy gaining popularity with its data-driven on-demand availability, it is expected to grow by ~25 times its value from $14 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025. Affected industries are increasing daily with travel, car-sharing, staffing, streaming and even financial lending leading the economic shift. Companies in the sharing economy align with Wright’s proposals to create a capitalist state that contributes to anti-capitalism through the “democratization of social relations that facilitate human flourishing.” Instead of providing services, these companies are facilitating transactions that break down barriers that otherwise exist to starting businesses. Similar to the slow shift from feudalism into a capitalist economy, we may be in the middle of an organic economic shift into a more democratized sharing-based economy beginning with millennials as a result of convenience, technology, and disillusionment with the current economic system.

Reading Response 4 / Shelbi Howard

The excerpts of this reading assignment seem idealistic at best and tyrannical at worst. In Paul Mason’s “postcapitalist guide to our future” he idolizes new and emerging technology, such as open sourced information and the Internet of Things, to assert that these would be implemented transparently with the assumption that every person in the world would adhere to these idealistic policies.

Technology in Mason’s world existed in the “technocratic utopianism” that Peter Frase described as typical post-work proposals; a place where people would not abuse the powers of open information and connected devices for personal gain and general evil. As we have learned from our own history of corruption, mental illness, and social instability, this is not realistic. People will exploit every resource and opportunity they have, not just for capital gain, but sometimes just for the sake of corruption and terror. Not only is citizen and rogue exploitation a concern, but also the state. A society that is tracking every transaction, communication, and movement of its citizens is unlikely to remain uninvolved with the manipulation or exploitation of this data for state means of tracking and punishment.

The solution to exploitation, according to Accelerationists, is to reform the abilities for people to commit these actions through wide scale media reform and societal change. Mason asserts that the state should be responsible for ending this through the control and criminalization of exploitive actions of companies and individuals. All of these “solutions” sound highly controlling and societally detrimental in nature. Whether by social manipulation or capital punishment, people are being highly constrained and even this is unlikely to catch the sneaky systemic issues that arise from exploitive measures.

Additionally, Mason, Srnicek, and Williams presume that this technology will not only be all encompassing but act as a savior. They assume that this newfound leisure time would feed into the building of anticapitalist movements, but as we have seen it would more likely be used for subversive or useless activities to the good of the state. Areas and groups where free time outweighs time of purposeful work rarely leads people to begin entrepreneurial journeys, as it takes a certain type of person to pursue these ventures, but more often ends in hours spent on cheap entertainment being unproductive.

Mason’s solution to idleness and reduction of large company control is essentially “startups will save us!” While startups rely on large company infrastructure to implement their technology, reliance on highly volatile startup culture and technology is an unreliable solution to the issue of innovation and societal reform. Instead, I find proposals of longterm groups created to lead the thought and implementation of post-capitalism more realistic. This would be a place where large companies and banks are not negated but used as catalysts for smaller, faster efforts – not dissimilar to today’s models, just with less red tape limiting innovation and non-profit growth.

Overall, I think that Peter Frase gave a good summary of the possible outcomes without asserting the details or claiming which would occur. He accounted for not only the good but also the terrible with his consideration of the quote “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” This could not be more true of our necessity for policy supporting the public good in a post-capitalist future, yet the human inclination to exploit that good has high potential to lead to the barbarism he also envisions.

New Tech / Shelbi Howard

When assessing likely emerging technology, an important and increasingly complicated space to look at is vehicles. The transportation industry is constantly evolving at the forefront of consumer technology innovation. The newest technologic and systemic innovation on the horizon is the transition of our transportation systems into internet connected networks of shared mobility.

BMW released their newest concept “mobility system” (not concept car) to fulfill varying human and goods transportation needs this past week. The Vision Urbanetic, BMW’s shapeshifting van, is a fully autonomous and electric combination of a passenger car and cargo van capable of shifting its chassis depending on the user’s needs. As telling as this is of the emerging technology, there are still vital form and design language decisions that transportation companies will have to decide on in order to make these concepts a marketable reality, as the author criticized in the link above.

As other important emerging technologies, such as the internet of things, develop further, there is an increasing need on the horizon for an “internet of transportation” providing a digital network for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles to communicate. The emergence of this transportation network will be as vital to the development of internet-connected transportation as roads were to the development and mass adaptation of cars. As BMW has shown, rhetoric and planning in the car industry is beginning to transition from single-owner transportation vehicles to nodes in a more complicated “mobility network” that will be predominantly autonomous, shared, and versatile by the second half of the 21st century.

Incidental Anti-Capitalism / Shelbi Howard

An example of anti-capitalism is the app/website couchsurfing. It is a world-wide community where people can host or stay with others as they travel for free. In addition to staying, there are regular free travel events that allow both travelers and hosts to connect for possible stays later. 

The focus of the community is on connecting with others across the world. It challenges the systemic fear of “others” by giving people who want to experience local culture as they travel or travelers from all over the world a place to connect. Upon signing up, one can stay with others and host travelers. However, to maintain safety and promote good experiences, a member can become “verified” by providing details such as phone number and address. After verification, one can be highlighted in search results and use the application and website without ads.

Further safety precautions are covered through the ability to message hosts and travelers through the app, both provide profiles on themselves and receive reviews and ratings for their behavior. To ensure safety during use, there is a health and safety team provided by couchsurfing that any issues can be reported to in case of a private concern or emergency. As much as the app has provided ample resources for one that may have an issue, they have been criticized by the fact that sexual abuse is still high for women traveling with the app and many times stigma prevents these women from sharing their issues publicly in reviews to help other women. Their open community has both acted as a place to keep checks and balances on users but also silences them on serious issues due to its publicity.

While this puts high amounts of trust in strangers and isn’t for everyone, it is a community of providing homes for travelers for free where they would otherwise be forced to pay for a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. This model circumvents traditional capitalist agendas of collecting capital for personal gain by focusing on the sharing of available spaces and collaboration between strangers from across the world. The idea of sharing available space to those that a person would not typically interact with can be applied across many industries and could alleviate some of the issues that capitalism has caused.

Similar to the rebuilding project in Australia mentioned by Dan Hill in Dark Matter, communities could adopt this model of trust and allow tenants to stay in or use spaces while they are available. Many apartment buildings have apartments available for long periods of time providing no benefit. If these could be opened up to travelers or low income families, with the trust of reviews to alleviate their concerns for the interiors, homelessness, housing crisis, and rising housing prices could be alleviated. This would have the potential to change economies and ways of life in cities struggling heavily with these issues, like San Francisco, New York, London, and even smaller cities struggling such as Philadelphia and Detroit.

Additional Sources:

The Global Housing Crisis

A little-known travel app that is Airbnb-meets-Tinder helped me have the wildest night in Tokyo partying until sunrise

24 Apps to Help You Travel Like a Local

Demand CouchSurfing End Complicity in Sexual Assault of Users