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Indoctrination Machines

Posted: January 30, 2014 at 6:13 pm

I was looking at the upcoming Prix Ars application process and realized that there was not really a place for my (generative) work. I looked over at the Interactive Art section to see how broadly it was defined, and found this:

“Jurors are looking forward to encountering innovative technological concepts blended with superbly effective design (usability).”

This struck me because I’m just now working on a talk where I’m trying to articulate some of the interactions between culture, technology and cognition. I consider usability and “good design” as being designs that fit very well with existing expectations, and therefore also social norms. It’s quite possible that such designs are just indoctrination machines that blindly follow the ideals of the status quo. They reflect the already dominant values of a culture, thus our current intuitive technology favours spontaneous perusal of what is current and hip. Consumption is just a click away in virtual “stores” (data repositories) suggested by algorithms and “friends” on social networks.

They go beyond just reflection because they reinforce particular notions and behaviours. Somewhere in our history we decided sitting was something we should do, so we invented chairs. The more chairs we encountered the more we were inclined to sit; Now many of us sit most of the day and deal with health effects related to a lack of activity. In google’s auto search completion we have a similar effect, where even non-misogynists click on it out of curiosity, thereby reinforcing the pattern.

The nature of how quickly we learn and internalize values embedded in technologies, with hardly any criticism or hardly awareness, leads me to think that HCI is really about shaping behaviour and therefore also cognition. What happens if we shift the role of HCI to social and cognitive engineering? (As much as that is even possible.) Considering consumption and the capitalist machine, maybe it already has.