Technological determinism, ahoy!


The prevailing belief of technologists is that technology is the solution to all problems. It is a view especially attractive to those best positioned to reap the benefits of innovation and avoid its unattractive consequences.

The technologists siren songW. Patrick McCray.


He trained the telephone


It is not so much that Mr. Karlin trained midcentury Americans how to use the telephone. It is, rather, that by studying the psychological capabilities and limitations of ordinary people, he trained the telephone, then a rapidly proliferating but still fairly novel technology, to assume optimal form for use by midcentury Americans.

From John E Karlin’s obituary in the NYT

Why did we invest in this research project?


The more likely series of events begins with the need for research funding, and ends with a number of workshops attended by industry partners, who, while checking smartphones for upcoming meetings contemplate the unspoken: “Why exactly did we invest in this research project?”.

Anna Harrison writes about the process of presenting collaborative research in Asking the Unaskable: “Why invest in research?”



what has happened is that that rhetoric has been co-opted by business schools. Now business schools are the ones that are talking about design thinking and selling design, and this is done by people who on one level, honestly, don’t have a clue about design, yet they have embraced it. For instance, a professor in the Harvard Business School decided he is going to teach a class on design thinking. We are the design school, so why are you not talking to us when you are putting together a course called design thinking?

— Mohsen Mostafavi, head of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, talking with Justin McGuirk in Domus, via Dan Hill

The Opposite


Lucy Suchman:

One of the things we’ve thought about is that there’s a common conception that the kind of ethnographic work that we do is a luxury and that it moves too slowly to have a real input to product development. Our experience has been the opposite. We’re always waiting for the products that we want to incorporate into our prototypes, and eventually have to give up and find ways around. Because product development is delayed, is redirected. I think there’s an irony there. So the counter-argument, what we’ve said is look, it’s not that we go out and do the study and you wait until it’s over, and then we give you the results. We think these things should be running in parallel.

The Sticky Tape Apparatus


The past success of Big Science makes it appear to young scientists that they need to necessarily do expensive science in order to be successful. Part of this belief does come from the era of big accelerator physics and high profile molecular biology as noted above. But we don’t have to see far to realize that this belief is flawed and it has been demolished by physicists themselves; two years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to scientists who produced graphene by peeling off layers of it from graphite using good old scotch tape. How many millions of dollars did it take to do this experiment?

— Ashutosh Jogalekar in Scientific American, “In Praise of Small (and Cheap) Science