It is so exciting to be reading Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke University Press), by Anne Balsamo. This gorgeous, informative, provocative, take-no-prisoners book is a veritable manifesto for rethinking how technology works within, through, about, and in tandem with deeper cultural values and how we need to be aware of design principles in order to disrupt some of the most persistent and unquestioned assumptions of a culture. Neither techno-utopian nor dystopian, Designing Culture is part of a growing and necessary body of scholarship designed to make us think critically about the purpose, impact, implications, and applications of the technologies we design. It is both about imagination and activism--and insists both need to be considered together as we design new "shiny things."
Here are the principles that motivate Balsamo's magisterial, practical, visionary, and yet detailed manifesto:
• Innovation is a process, not a product
• Innovation is a multidisciplinary endeavor
• Designing is a practice of the technological imagination
• The future is enacted by designers who hack the present to create the platforms for future world-making
• Making things is important for the construction of shared knowledge
• Every technology has contradictory and multiple effects
• Collaboration across differences is the key to technocultural innovation
• The creation of new technologies always involves the design of new cultural possibilities
• Everyone who participates in the design of new technologies is also engaged in the process of designing culture
• Understanding the relationship of culture and technology, therefore is an ethical imperative for those engaged in creating new technologies, applications, and digital culture
This gorgeous book is itself a work of cultural design, from the sumptuous cover (part technology, part plant life, part Fortuny tapestry, and all beautiful) to the boxes and shaded areas and even a CD that all guide how we read which is to say what we read: that's Balsamo's point. The "how" (the affordances) shape the "what"--and vice versa. Form is content and content is form---and we are going to mess it up unless we think about designing both together.
This is the book to buy, to teach, to discuss. Gender is a serious topic throughout and so is literacy, crosscultural understanding, the institutionalized university as a site of technocultural innovation, interdisciplinarity, collaboration. It is a book chock full of insights and practical aids, and a challenge to anyone designing or thinking about cultural design. It's provocations will keep students engaged for a long time to come.