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Response to John Thackera's, “Introduction, ” in the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World

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Submitted By katcat
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In his introduction to the book “In the Bubble” John Thackera tackles the ethical role of technology within our society and challenges our attitude towards our perception of technology and it’s role in a rapidly changing world. Based on his perception of the current situation, he sets forth a manifesto for change that would re-humanise the structure of technology through design.
Although he writes with the best of his intentions and we empathise with many of his assertions, the structure of his argument is often non-sequential and illogical. For example, when Thackera discusses the fact that designers are not to blame for the state that the earth is in, he declares that “no designer that I have ever met set out to wreck the planet.” He misses the opportunity to explore the financial motivations (which are often stronger that any altruistic notion we might have) that drive not only the designer but the businesses to which designers are related. He repeatedly views technology through the lens of design and fails to mention the important relationships between business, economy and technology. We would further argue, that the idea of asserting blame on individual designers is spurious. The reason our world (especially in the west) looks the way it does when this introduction was written, is less to do with individual moral positioning and more about a dominating capitalistic structure. This is something that he appears to confront, although without directly naming it, when he suggests the solutions for “a less-stuff-more-people world”. He gives us list of socially orientated systems that, in direct opposition to capitalism, are entrenched with a marxist agenda. As Thackera states, structures that place technology above peoples, are doomed to failure citing the dot-com crash where many businesses had fallen, because they failed to consider the needs of people in an enthusiastic rush towards the technologically exciting. Although once again his reasoning appears idealistic and naive; an altruistic solution without pragmatic plausibility. “Washing clothing on the roof” would only work in a densely populated urban environment and fails to consider suburban or rural living conditions.
The interesting and salient point that Thacker follows with, is that change will only be implemented when it is deemed to be exciting and engaging, and that putting limits of pleasure and adventure will only dampen attempts to improve the world. This is something we see over and over again. For example, we are now more likely to eat locally, given the growth of food co-ops in neighbourhoods giving us only access to local food, but a more positive alternative to supermarket shopping. Not only is healthy, responsibly produced food is bought and sold but we are being given the chance to socialize and feel a part of our community.
Unfortunately, not all the reasoning in this prose is so easily followed. Thackera informs us that “the planet’s population has doubled in my generation’s lifetime” yet we are still clinging onto the pursuit of labour saving devices, he takes a logical jump that we can only guess at, which he leaves unexplained or unexemplified.
Despite of somewhat fragmented and confusing reasoning, the main points that thackera reaches do ring true. He claims that we have to change our perceptions, in order to solve problems and create change. “The challenge is to be both in the bubble and above it, at the same time - to be as sensitive to the big picture, and the destination we are headed for” Like Thackera, we believe at the very core of this matter is the importance we place on the human being. Throughout modern history, businesses have been trying to take the people out of production. As Thackera states, however, this is what it needs to be changed. People are ought to come first, and the way to do this is through design. As he states in his ethical manifesto, we need to first protect the rights of people and that is when the world with technology can flourish.

Addendum: As an additional note, we found that it is difficult to relate ourselves fully to this article as it was written in 2006, before the global economic crisis which started in 2008 and since then, for a world that has changed dramatically. It therefore seems outdated and, in part, difficult to critique in relation to today’s world which provides a pretty different backdrop for the context of this essay.…...

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