Just Out of Reach
There is no doubt that society and technology go hand in hand. One builds the other and allows for the counter-part to prosper. It is how we “ornament” our technology in making it user-friendly that we should take close-inspection of. The mid-twentieth century French philosopher Gilbert Simondon wrote to this idea that ornamentation takes away from an object’s purity:
“A wagon with merchandise or a tender of a locomotive ages less quickly than a passenger car, with its ornaments and inscriptions: the one that is most overloaded with inessential ornaments is the one that goes out of fashion the most quickly” (Simondon, 23).
The point he raises is the line between “inessential ornaments” and usability. Aesthetics improve the experience for users, abstracting away much of the instrumentation under the hood. I argue the mark dividing ornamentation from quality design is when the user’s experience is hampered. Matching the technical academese of an object’s operator ensures for a closer experience. A company I am invested in is Apple. This San Fran company transitioned from modest Homebrew roots to become one of the largest companies on the planet. How did they do so? They simplified the user experience and built not only a status symbol empire, but a dream-selling machine. Apple matches society’s value of the individual. Notoriously, Apple has challenged industry standards.
“Apple introduces the first low cost microcomputer system with a video terminal and 8 kilobytes (KB) of RAM on a single PC card!”
“All watches tell time. This one helps you make the most of it.”
“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction,” - John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity.
Another individual who contributed to the methodology underlying “critical making” is Matt Ratto. He is the Assistant Professor and director of the Critical Making lab in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. After coining the term “critical making” he went on to explain more of what he meant in publishing the ideology.
“One of the things that he realized was that when you started thinking about what one needs to know, the line between social knowledge and technical knowledge gets increasingly blurry” (Hertz, 7).
Apple is not the most conducive to this concept of critical making. Their Operating Systems are proprietary and sealed up. Their hardware locks tech-geeks like myself from fooling around and replacing pieces like RAM. We trade the ability to peel back the cover for a unified and guaranteed experience. The amount of technological knowledge required to build a modern device is far beyond any individual. Socially, our care to understand the inner-workings of these pieces is declining. Ratto writes to this concept:
“The most powerful aspect of making is the way it denaturalizes the built environment” (Hertz, 9).
I spoke to this potent idea of breaking down the world around you that Ratto refers to in a previous blog post. I seek to pry deeper into all of these pieces of the world around us. My time is filled with topics ranging from the laws of the universe, to modern storytelling, to topical pieces of news in the tech sector. I am passionately curious. Bridging the gap between social knowledge and technical knowledge is my goal. I am motivated to get to the core of what makes our technology more useful and elegant so that I can contribute.
Garnet Hertz interview with Matt Ratto