On Changing the World

by Cennydd Bowles

8 Reader Comments

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  1. This is a brilliant observation, though it discretely evades the elephant in the room: the major players in the paradigm here are three-fold, not two. Indeed few would deny a relationship—a tradeoff, in this case—between slick user experiences and an advocacy of transparency, but what of the third pillar? Revenue.

    Companies are acutely aware that transparency can affect adoption—which carry implications beyond the sale of products themselves—to the wares into which those products transform their users. “Doing the right thing” is more naturally occurring than I think people realize…until it comes with a price tag…

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  2. I disagree, Scotty Z. For one thing, things like DRM actually cost the user money and remove functionality, not the other way around. In fact, the giving up of rights for a slicker interface almost always comes at a higher cost: Linux is free, but not very popular.

    However, even in cases where you are correct, we cannot disregard our ethics to make money. There needs to be a balance, and if we can improve lives and not be as rich as a result, we need to choose to be good.

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  3. Nice post.

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  4. Some interesting points raised here. For me, these are problems which occur as the distance between thought, action, and result rapidly shrinks. I think this shrinkage probably accounts for why we have tight, homogenous clusters in tech communities; they are the continuation of the original founding communities. This has allowed them better (and rapidly improving) access to the tools which enable this kind of work.

    I would add that the focus on solving problems for this extremely narrow demographic has meant that broader access to the tools and knowledge necessary to participate in tech has been limited. For instance, “natural” language coding initiatives often rely on speaking English, or the focus on social networking rather than solving real and pressing issues to do with environment, access to food, healthcare, etc.

    Technologists need to think more globally, and probably think less about the US consumer market. Unfortunately, that’s where the money is (for now).

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  5. I really like the point on the honest design aspect (as Rams would probably put it). Another point to highlight, imho, is a need for ethical design. Ethically designed products inspire people using them to better themselves (as opposed to taking advantage of human’s compulsive disorders to generate revenues).

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  6. Before anything like this can be discussed you need to live where I live. Web design is bad, at best a contorted amalgam of “borrowed” templates and the content reflects the literacy of the locale and culture. 50% of the county I live in does not have the ‘tubes’ and those that do, 50% have dial up access. Limited access to the tubes effects how people see and use the web. They are bound by liturgy that is 100’s of years old. They attempt to understand by importing what you big guys do but something happens along the way. They ~adapt visually but they gut the concepts and insides are replaced with the local culture and liturgy. BTW I am only 180 miles from Chicago and 16 miles from a metro population of 1 million+. You speak of tech imperialism and then you make a comparison between Western culture and N. Africa There are some common misconceptions that need to be addressed. The issues we face are just outside your door.

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  7. Though I agree to many aspects of your article, lets not forget that there are many real life challenges and sometimes an all-digital approach might not provide an adequate solution at all. I have some personal views on this in an article on medium (maybe you are interested): https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/ddab6ba23b3e

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  8. Brilliant piece. It highlights something that often worries me – the bubble of fast-moving, exciting technological change has a special air of grassroots action, bootstrapping and ‘going against the man’ that it often ignores the wider socioeconomic global context the industry is part of. You’re absolutely right that “efforts to travel, to learn about other cultures and contexts, and to consider use cases beyond those of our nearest neighbors will help reduce the risk of technological imperialism.” These experiences and efforts to broaden our horizons don’t have to come in place of revenue-generating activities. Sometimes, simply having seen a different context of living and thinking can cajole us to design differently, to build things that work differently, and to question decisions that only make sense within our context.

    When our eyes are set toward WWDC and various announcements of new products and fancy technology, it’s easy to forget that “should I switch to the new iPhone” isn’t something the rest of the world is worried about. It doesn’t mean we have to feel guilty and quit our jobs in favor of unpaid volunteer roles, it just means we have to think a little more broadly.

    Thanks for this!

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  9. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.