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Juxtaposing: Social and technological

Juxtaposing: Social and technological

When I came across this blog post in 2012, I almost felt that someone had articulated a feeling that I was long struggling with. "It's about technology and not people"

I started writing this entry sometime in December 2012, blissfully unaware of Evgeny Morozov's work. Since December, three things happened: Morozov, DML 2013 and Foucault's idea of 'singularity of the event'. The reason I stopped writing was because I didn't know what was bothering me so much and I was constantly speaking the language of product, tools, badges and maps (with a paranthetical so what?). Now, I think a better way of doing this entry is to start a discussion and chart a few positions that I can think of. Hopefully more will follow.

I think my discomfort with the absolute taking over of the entirely technological is not only to do with the effect - reducing the ways in which we think of the social to a problem solving mode but also to do with who is making this happen. This could be a total bunch of generalizations but the conversations I have been following on HASTAC have only been about setups of high accessibility and a naively good faith vision of the world. Can I apply badges to incentivize an education environment in India? Are we considering technologies in the broader question of the social? Do we need to thoroughly understand, unpack and complicate the situation that we are about to change? The questions that I ask myself and people around everyday are so beautifully framed by Morozov in his first book and his several news articles. I agree with him when he portrays the dangers of solutionism. I am not sure I feel the same paranoia and anxiety as he does though. I also came across, and have since been fascinated with Bruno Latour's idea of "folding". Latour explains that tecnology and morality cannot be seen as in a relationship of means to end and that it is in using technologies that we navigate a certain path, work with an internal logic of the tool/platform/network which require us to do a bunch of tasks that may have no relationship with what we want to achieve. And it is in this little 'detour' or 'folding' that we undertake as techno-social beings we are also participating or resisting political consciousness of a kind, performing functions (like clicking on ads or 'liking' = contributing to mine-able trends or simpler, contributing to attention economies). Brings us back to questions like who and how. These questions are very relevant for two reasons: sustainability and "whose-change-is-it-anyway?"

Turn 2: DML 2013 and Malala memes

Instead of posing problems of DML and the kind of people it brings together, let me make another incident an entry point to the question "whose-change-is-it-anyway?" A team made up of a middle school teacher, a multimedia teaching artist, and 8th grade students from Columbia College Chicago’s TEAM program (Transforming Education through the Arts and Media) hosted a panel discussion around memes and their political potential (DIY classroom activism). The students were required to find "affinity spaces" (stories, people, films they could relate to) in order to produce commentaries on what was happening in their real world. They showcased a bunch of meaningful memes that every student made with Hunger Games and Malala Yousafzai. Apart from the problems I had with calling those object memes (meme scholars can help me out here), I had a fundamental problem with claiming "affinity spaces". I even asked them why all the class girls thought they "felt like Malala". There is little in common between the lived experiences of a Pakistani teenager living in a low Internet penetration zones responding to religious, social and political regimes and their framing of women's rights and American teenagers from relatively privileged zones. If there is, it isn't obvious to me. Aren't we past the moment of women's solidarity across races, cultures, classes, castes and more? I suddenly felt like post-colonial debates never reached this part of the world. Apart from the obvious solutionism in coming up with such initiatives, the problem also lies in contributing naively to historicizing projects. AND, just locating them in the realm of the digital doesn't take away the existing realities where we want to produce changes.

Genealogy, as Foucault explains, maybe a better way of doing history exercises (even with the contemporary). In stead of locating the event within an already existing or presumed mode of historical unfolding like in Malala's case, one *has* to transcend Western modes of "making sense" of things. One absolutely has to first battle History and Reason (the process itself of explaining why things happen the way they do) in order to avoid producing pitiful narratives of third world girls who get shot in fundamentalist regimes. The danger is not so much in the narrative as in the action that follows (removing Malala from where she is an agent of change and swallowing her in a safe Western space by making a hero and a subsequent native informant-scholar of her). This is a classic case of finding a problem and then solving it. But whose problem? Whose vision of change? What medium are you using? What is the "folding" within the medium? Is this project of finding "affinities" mutual?

Turn 3 and further explorations:

Morozov is already looking too bitter to me. Maintaining a balance between technophobia and utopia is a real tight rope walk. I wasn't so sure about thinking hard and asking difficult questions of the change I want to make but for now I think I am going to continue asking those and hopefully design interventions that reflect the complicity. And, this is by no means a position of despair and wincing. I think 'product design' in every field could beneft from asking these questions.

Currently reading: (On reinventing the Left and making links with the technological)


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