Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Technology and Values

What motivates you to do your best work? For me, I want to be working on something I believe is helpful to the modern world we live in. Just listen to NPR for twenty minutes and you'll hear a great variety of social problems that can be addressed by clever technological designs - for instance, how can we encourage people to bone up their gas mileage by changing their driving behavior? How can we motivate children to eat better and move their bodies more? How can we get people to start growing their own food, shopping for local produce, or lessening their carbon footprint? How can we encourage a feeling of community? Those are the kinds of problems (though not necessarily the exact ones) that would motivate me, and they are all questions that can be addressed by technological designs.

In a nutshell, I love using my creative and analytical skills to solve *very real* problems. And you need to talk to people and go out in the real world to find out what those problems are, and how to address them.Here's a question for you. In The Human Factor, Kim Vicente says "technology is value neutral," and it is how the technology gets used (i.e. the cultural factors) that determines whether it is used for good or for ill. How do you feel about this? If this were true, it could mean that those people who strive to understand - and even attempt to design - appropriation, adoption and interactions with technology have perhaps even more important work than those who build the technology itself. What do you think?