Myth of Neutrality in Tech

Wow I really appreciated the readings this week! They were some of the most comprehensive and actually honest texts regarding diversity, ethics and tech that I’ve read at ITP, particularly Fred Turner’s interview that went into the hypocrisies of corporate cultural initiatives and the issues with identity politics. The main ideas I got from the first reading were to be cognizant of the fact that technology creates a barrier and to make sure to be extra empathetic online, which I think opens up an important conversation about something that came coming up throughout all the texts. This idea of productivity > human empathy and interaction as being such a central part of not only the tech world but also U.S. culture.

The reason I enjoyed Turner’s interview so much was his frequent historical references and his ability to trace our current collective psychology to deep-seeded issues of “American” identity and spirituality that has manifested into a desire to produce. I actually think Taeyoon Choi’s meditation on the labor behind software made me also think about how given the history of our technology, this labor that is embedded in what we use is why we have feminized so much software (Siri, Alexa, etc).

Beyond this gender dynamic, there is obviously there is a greater underlying trauma that manifests as a large structural issue within all overlapping fields of technology. I think it was best put in the interview when discussing how engineers see themselves as inherently benevolent: “The next thing you know, you’re deep in an Orwellian swamp. Engineers barely think about that swamp, because building architectures for benevolent influence is what they do.” I have never been able to quite find the language to describe the discomfort of self-gratifying tech culture but I think he hits the nail on the head when he says, “I’ve always found it very hard to think about any system, any planned, top-down system as, by definition, benevolent.”

I was particularly moved by the example of Dolores Huerta. To think about how deep these structural issues go back and to understand the theft of bodies, labor and land that went into creating the world that we I cannot help to think that in a search for spirituality we act like God; we appropriate narratives and images for a new manifestation of Puritan lifestyle, “leaving behind the known world of everyday life, bodies, and all the messiness that we have with bodies of race and politic…” I also can’t help to think about the people that Dolores Huerta defends— people who work at the bottom of the economic system in this country, with conditions that destroy the body, little wage, exposed to harsh chemicals and often times without legal representation. To think about the acceptance and eagerness to read minds and body patterns is parallel to the tolerance of the conditions that exist for migrant farm workers; the body as a vessel to be regulated. So all this makes me wonder about how our society really views the body? How we experience the body? How will we experience it when A.I. steeps deeper into our world?

I agree with the various authors’ push towards free software and accessibility for all, but I think it goes beyond this. I think that people living in first-world comfort, specifically “Americans” need to stop thinking of themselves as individuals. We are all part of a long history that has shaped the material realities and our bodies and we all relate to one another through a complex network. More unions, more collectives, more using the internet to be creatively together instead of further apart. 

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