Updated: Jun 5

When we turn back to the first internet disruption, it was one of space. The known maxima of Gertrud Stein summarizes perfectly the obvious condition: there is no there. The perfect shortcut — a shortcut to everywhere — much like the ideas of Virilio in deletion of space. The public space was gradually being evaded, due to the dangers of the city. Hermetic cars, fast highways, car-accessed malls (malls, as semi-private, semi-public spaces). Transportation, in its latest advancements (perfect connections: trains, metros, trams, scooters) are similarly in the task of deleting spaces and advancing their shortcuts. Elon Musk’s much anticipated Hyperlook is some sort of epitome of that (conversely, it might just be the great hoax of the XXI century). However, if the horizontal axis is measuring space, the second one measures presence, and they are negatively correlated. Another strange paradox unfolds: when we decide to exist everywhere — a mother snaps a photo of her toddler, crops it, applies filters, geotags it, hashtags it, uploads it to Instagram; as the image goes public, the mother exists in many places at once — and we suffer of a new condition, the half-presence. The experience of being with others is diluted throughout the many multiplied selves that exists simultaneously. Space is expanded; presence is conquered elsewhere, and real world presence is negatively correlated to the expansion. A trade off is established when both modes of existence are activated at the same time: one can exist fully, on Instagram, but only partially in the physical world. One presence is irrevocably at the expense of another. The trade off is unbalanced: not posting means being fully present in the real world, and fully absent online. Posting, means being partially present in the real world, but fully present online. The half real, full online situation, this, appears to be the most profitable outcome.

The aspect of time starts to come forth: a half-present moment is documented, and can linger on forever. It feeds the offspring, it allows the moment to be relived, it allows the slice of life to be seen again and again for the new generations to come. A fully loved moment, however, will die with us.

And a third chain of affections kick in at the anticipation of the snapshot, or to its possibility. The framing of life follows the framing of the social rule / technology rule of Instagram itself — as in the choice of scenario according to what is most instagrammable; this phenomenon of framing life according to Instagram is a most perfect fulfillment of Heidegger’s concern with technology: the all-encompassing movement of enframing [Gestell] that technology exerts over us.

Technology is the frame, yet the frame is not alone in itself, since it is the enabled social interaction that is really at play, and also framed by technology.

The moment at the park is affected beforehand, as the entire venture to the park is accompanied by the possibility of being documented — including the tension concerning the dilemma of taking or not the photo (”Should I pick my phone from the pocket?”).

If the photo is, at last, taken, there are the effects of the aftermath after posting — will it be liked? will it be purposely not liked by passive-aggressive aggressors? The posting will affect the real world of that user in a continuous roller-coaster of expectations, for whatever amount of time the half-life of that type of photograph lasts (landscapes, children, work or gold most probably have radically different half-lives and timespans). What is unclear, still, is the set of motives behind all the activity. It cannot by any means be a drive towards space, real estate conquest or scalability of the self. It is not entirely a business, for most users. It is also a documentation, but that would not be the entire truth. The undeniable repetition, however, leaves little doubt that in the least a significant crystallization of the self is going on — some sort of Greek hypomnemata [the ancient diary, which could help its author to understand one self]. And yet, under the eye of the others, in the terms and filters of technology. Can we compromise to live and take a moment to snap a picture? Please?

Updated: Jun 5

The unexpected effects of your design

One clean-cut definition of design is a plan to a definite, desired outcome. The designer’s role usually ends there — and the designed solution finds a life of its own.

Users will make all sorts of different uses of your design outcome. Experience tells us that this process is radically unpredictable.

A simple example: back in 1997, “weblogs” made personal journals popular. After 20 years, they have changed journalism, and WordPress sites alone have over 400 million monthly readers.

There is a heated debate whether the ease of access to information we have today — every search in Google takes less than a second to give us answers, plus the huge amount of distractions the web brings us — has shortened our attention span and is even rewiring parts of our brain, as Nicholas Carr describes in his praised book The Shallows and his original article, back in 2008 in The Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid?.

Perhaps Google has designed a new way to access information and may have affected the way we interpret information. There’s a clear and significant — yet unexpected — outcome.

Similarly, technology has enabled a radical transformation on public debate. Twitter has become the loudspeaker of most modern governments. Everyone is able to join the conversation, in real-time. And more: you can show your support to opinions and voices by liking, sharing or commenting.

Now, put all these unforeseen consequences together: what happens when everyone can discuss a topic, simultaneously, but nearly nobody will take the time to dig deep into the discussion?

If anyone can own a blog (and call it “the news”) how can you tell what is fake from what is real? Nearly 60% of people in Hungary, Poland and Italy believe that social media companies will take care of cleaning up fake news. This goes lower in Sweden (34%) and way higher in Russia (84%). The fact, however, is that Mark Zuckerberg explicitly said that Facebook will not fact-check political ads — campaigns which, at times, spread false information.

Welcome to the world of today, its incredible design products and their massive design bugs.

The exploits that are eating the world

A new design may create one solution and unpredictable outcomes. Some of these outcomes allow users to create, produce and live better in ways that the original designer did not think of. One could say these are consequences of good, open-ended design. The unexpected relevance that blogs or YouTube gained are two evident examples.

Some unforeseeable outcomes, on the other hand, allow harmful behaviors to flourish. One could say they are caused by design bugs.

Let’s get back to the idea of the public debate. Anyone can call a blog “news”. Nobody will pay attention to the details. Complexity starts to be erased from everyday debate. Agreement becomes difficult. Facts become boring, and trolling becomes a spectacle. Opinions get polarized. Whoever has more likes and shares, wins. Sounds familiar?

I am sure it does, no matter where in the world you are. The trouble goes a bit deeper, though. And that’s because all these phenomena are quickly assimilated as a “new normal”.

This so-called normal affects the core of our belief systems, like the validity of science, the credibility of journalism, or the type of information we deem as “truth”. That is serious business because it means our most basic pillars are disturbed — and suddenly we have anti-vaxxers, bullies, climate deniers and flat earthers making the truth and facts a matter of opinion. They’re not.

Who’s fault is it?

Is this all happening because of design bugs? I wouldn’t say they are the cause of the phenomena. There are a lot of angry people out there. They have just found a way to exploit the bugs to convey their anger — and, at times, use those as means to their own ends.

As designers, we have affected huge technological transformation in the world. Businesses, information, entertainment, health, science, transportation, relationships, democracy. These multiple disruptions have made a lot of people angry. Take, for instance, these two very physiological needs: food and sex.

A worldwide study from January, 2020, has shown that food delivery platforms (UberEats and the likes) are going to grow 7.5% annually, until 2024. By 2024, platforms will make more money out of deliveries than restaurants. At the moment, the relationship with restaurants is far worse than “it’s complicated”: since 2018, restaurants in New York have signalled that some of these apps are taking over 40% of their revenue per order. Margins had shrunk over a third. In the long run, we may expect some form of balance between the two business models. Restaurant owners are angry.

Tinder has made dating so efficient that the result is mind-boggling: in the “economy” of Tinder, the bottom 80% of men are competing for the bottom 22% of women. On the other hand, the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men. The “dating” distribution is more unequal than the wealth distribution in Venezuela. Some men are pretty angry.

While markets and competition tend to self-regulate, relationships are not governed by the same invisible hand. The Tinder economy may demand a natural balance, with particular consequences.

Along with food and relationships, there’s more change. Furious cars and fast fashion are not sexy anymore. Ethnic slurs are not acceptable. Workplace harassment is no longer “part of the culture”. Homophobia is not OK. Carbon footprint is a thing. So, where does all the anger and resentment go?

They often find their way to these and many other design bugs, features and system loopholes that can be exploited. While no one can prevent innovation from creating loopholes, it is important to see who’s actually willing to fix them.

What can designers do?

Designers can actually do a lot to prevent exploits. Every new user interface generated, and every new user experience created, and every new service designed becomes part of what is, in fact, “current practice”.

You may check the list of possible ideas at Idean's Spotlight here, where the full article has been published.



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©2020 by Lutav | Sérgio Tavares, ph.D.