2. The Critical Engineer raises awareness that with each technological advance our techno-political literacy is challenged.
The tenet that interested me the most is number 2. I think it means that as new technology is coming out frequently, we often find ourselves in an awkward adapting period where we have to adjust to the interface of the new technology, to find out how it works and fits into our lives. We rely on technology as a powerful tool, but often do not know how it works and are reminded of that whenever we are faced with new technologies. Some older generations’ difficulties with handling modern computers is a prime example of this, as the computer could still be considered “new technology” for them, and their lack of techno-literacy provides a problem for them in the current era.
The Critical Engineering Manifesto
” The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative
language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the
work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence. ”
In my own words:
If we cannot engineer then we are forced to consume what exists. If we cannot engineer, our ability to think about the world critically, to think not only about “what” needs to change but “how” it needs to change is severely limited. But enginerring in itself is not enough. A Critical Engineer has to consider their work within the context that it exists – Socially, Economically and in relation to current technologies.
With the rise in popularity of Maker movements, Digital Fabrication and all kinds of DIY movements, Critical Engineering has never been more important – Not being blinded by the shiny allure of 3D printing and laser cutting as a means unto themselves but rather as tools that can influence culture and drive change. It is important not to use these tools to keep on creating copious amounts of junk that ends up in landfills. Rather to acknowledge that they are capable of much more. To use them to provoke conversation and drive change.
What happens when anyone with a $1000 can print a working gun?
Is this somethig that we should try to prevent? Has the Movie or Music industry been able to stop online piracy?
Something interesting happens when things (music, movies, guns) go from the physical to the digital realm where they can distributed and shared freely. We as a society have not been living with the technology long enough (or thinking about it critically enough) to have answered any of these questions. But these are the things that we should be talking about. Not 3D printing replicas of peoples heads or the countless arbitrary forms that grace the pages of Shapeways and Thingiverse.
« The Critical Engineer considers the exploit to be the most desirable form of exposure »
From this statement, I understand that the Critical Engineer wants to expose a third party and that their preferred method for doing so would be to expose a scandal in which this same third party used exploitation to achieve their ends. This links to #5, where the Critical Engineer questions dependency on a technology. Here the Critical Engineer questions the kind of technology we depend on.
I recently read an intriguing book, “Black Holes, Worm Holes and Time Machines” which states that the Physicists greatest ambition is not to prove a very important theorem, but rather to disprove a very important theorem. Upon reading the tenth and last of the tenants of the Critical Engineer I was struck by just how similar the statements are. Both would rather expose a fundamental problem with a system rather than put a new system in place. Both would rather be the Einstein, who put forth a theorem or series of theorums) which technically cannot be proven but which proved our model and understanding of the universe to be but a simplistic and false explanation which is now only used in middle schools, and whose theorem now acts as our best-functioning model of the universe. Or even the Isaac Newton who shook the ecclesiastic world in his time with his discovery that the Earth orbited the sun, rather than itself being the center of the universe.
5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its
user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.
This tenet touches upon the extent to which technologies can modify our habits and behaviors. Having experienced dependency engineering in a variety of online and offline settings – Duolingo, Facebook and Scientology come to mind – I find that this tenet is particularly pressing. With an awareness of the potential for engineers to affect the behavior of their users, the critical engineer can go on to deconstruct and critique habit-forming structures.
A critical engineer might be interested in appropriating a tactic like gamification in an artwork or provocation, so as to bring it to the attention of the public sphere. Concretely, this might involve rewarding participants with a badge for every hour that they clean a window. As an aside, I think it’s crucial for an engineer or maker to be intensely aware of the ethical dimension of her work.
The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.
In my own words
A “Critical Engineer” is an engineer (in this context, more likely a programmer/hacker/roboticist than, say, a mechanical engineer) who believes that Engineering (which I read as technology/products of engineering) has immense cultural influence. Such an engineer, beyond learning about and deconstructing technologies, uses his or her knowledge of those technologies to infiltrate them, and to show others how those technologies affect their behavior and assumptions.
Based on the tenant’s description of such a Critical Engineer, I imagine someone deeply understanding web technologies, then using that understanding to, say, hack Facebook, and replace a person’s newsfeed with a message to go offline.
And as much as hacking Facebook and telling people to get off it is an appealing idea, I worry that that idea and the Critical Engineer’s manifesto are naive. They focus on critique of new technologies, assuming tech is nefarious and needs to be “exposed”, rather than on really thinking about the role technology plays in people’s lives, and how the people they wish to inform will react to the “exposure”.
Questions this raised for me:
- How much does technology shape the way we move, communicate, and think? Is it enough to really make a difference in people’s lives? Does it make the basic experience of being a human now that different from that of humans of the past?
- How aware are people of the influence technology has on their lives, and what is the best way to make them think reflectively about this?
- How do the roles of critic/outsider and creator/insider overlap? What can someone in each role achieve?
- Are hackers (in general and specific ones) doing it for the attention and recognition, or to really change things for the better?
The European Parliament’s definition of machine is an: “an assembly, fitted with or intended to be fitted with a drive system other than directly applied human or animal effort, consisting of linked parts or components, at least one of which moves, and which are joined together for a specific application.” (2006/42/ED -Machinery Directive)
A machine is a tool to support the humans’ work (physically and mentally). But now we blow up the definition of machines’. It’s not only the physical object or device the humans interacting with. Even we are machines. The critical engineer calls every relationship between bodies, devices, agents, forces and networks machines. Machines are expanding from the world of objects into the non-haptic, virtual world.
The point that when we are interacting with a “machine” that makes us itself to a machine is an interesting statement, which influences the way we are thinking about future interaction design.
For me an interesting concept about the interaction between human – machine – animal in future: www.cohenvanbalen.com
3. The Critical Engineer deconstructs and incites suspicion of rich user
As a design student constantly primed by the institution to create rich user experiences, the notion of deconstruction and suspicion of these experiences comes as an unusual surprise. But perhaps it’s just the nuances of language playing with me here. From my understanding, what Julian, Gordan and Danja mean by this tenet of their Critical Engineering Manifesto is the breaking down of experiences to its basic parts, processes, artifacts, and more in order to establish an understanding of what is really there.
It is only through such understanding of the truth in all its transparency can the true problem spaces be determined, and the appropriate solutions for it.
I can’t help but think of the rich ecosystems that services like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the other internet giants provide. Although they are prominent and enjoyed in our modern culture, it is only now that we are beginning to fight for an understanding of how these ‘black boxes’ of services create those experiences. As Julian himself puts it, “To find a point of exploit—an entry point—in a black box is to produce knowledge. Sometimes this also reveals how we are being exploited by that black box” (Fortune).
In light of growing tension upon privacy vs. publicity, the NSA (or in China, the Great Firewall), and so on, it seems all the more critical that we observe, question and break down in order to create understanding.
Fortune, Stephen. “Engineering Critically.” Dazed Digital. N.p., June 2013. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. <http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/16269/1/weise7>.
“ The Critical Engineer recognizes that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.”
A work of technology, machinery, or utility is only as good as its importance and purpose to its user. Just as a piece of equipment serves to aid its user, the full potential of the equipment can only be achieved through the willingness of the user. A device that is often used will display its full power, have an effect on the users, and eventually upgraded or updated to an improved version. However, following this train of thought, also brings up an important and possibly dangerous point, the reliance on a work of engineering. As the Critical Engineer observes, the effect of the work projects a user’s dependency upon it. For example, the cellar phone is one of the most common communication devices of today. As its importance grows, people become more reliant on it,and as more people adopt to it, the more likely it is to be changed for efficiency or convenience. Internet appears on cell phones faster than ever before and the high-speed, high definition video cameras such as the 8-megapixel sensor on the Apple iPhone 5 are proofs that these technologies have driven people to an almost point of insanity to create faster, more efficient machines to fill the appetite of hungry users. The new phones will then in turn attract more customers. It is important for us to recognize the difference between a reliable device and relying on a device so we do not end up becoming machines for our machines.
0. The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.
The Critical Engineer understands that technology is pervasive and influences the way we interact with each other and ourselves. Therefore, the Engineer realizes that understanding how Engineering works is of utmost importance, because it allows them to manipulate the culture around them and demonstrate to others the amount of influence that it holds over us.
This tenet defines an artist’s intent in engaging their audience and forcing them to critically engage with the world around them, regardless of whether they work with technology or not. We realize that technology controls many people’s lives, and that its interconnectedness with so many different fields and things makes it a central target for commentary. The Facebook game Social Roulette gave Facebook users a 1 in 6 chance of deleting their accounts. Its intention was to force users to reflect on the extent and importance of their digital personas.
5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency on it.
This tenet points out the irony especially present in modern civilization wherein technology conditions and controls the user to an extent, rather than the users exerting exclusive control over technology. This claim is interesting because it can be both dangerous and helpful. As Henry Thoreau observed, when we become the “tool of our tools”, we can lose focus on a fulfilling life. However, the Critical Engineer can also exploit this for further progress. For example, as more and more people are gaining access to mobile internet, they become more dependent on the mobile device for things like news and social connection. This dependence ensures that conveniences like satellite navigation on mobile devices will not go wasted.