5. The Critical Engineer recognizes that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user's dependency upon it.

As engineering and our feats of technology become more and more miraculous, so does our ability to see these miracles. Technology has become the norm in our lives, and because we rely on it, we take these works of engineering for granted. When we do so, when we rely on others for these technologies, we ourselves do not necessarily understand the hardships of life that would be without these works of engineering and as a result, our dependency for it.

Many people's ability to navigate the roads without the use of a GPS is bare, if even existent. Once, being able to read the stars and maps was as critical as warmth or shelter. However, today, it's a rare skill and I constantly wonder at many's survival skills if our GPS were suddenly taken away from us. For me, being in a foreign area, I'm very conscious of how much battery I have so that I am able to still use Google Maps to get home. This reliance must be recognized; the consequences can be detrimental otherwise.


3. The Critical Engineer deconstructs and incites suspicion of rich user experiences.

I found this tenet interesting because it relates to my work as a UX designer and neuroscience student, and has further implications for fields like VR. Maybe this is a stretch, but it reminds me of Baudrillard's writings on Simulations and Simulacra, and their social and political consequences.

From a commercial standpoint, the more immersive the user experience, the more profitable it is. As humans, we are attuned to subtle environmental differences that might signal danger, so we are excellent at distinguishing artificial environments from real ones. We become frustrated when an experience with software doesn't match up with mental models.

In most cases, frustration works against us. We want better UX for systems like transportation, education, or hospitals, to increase standards of living across the world. But for 'leisure' products like social media, we are paying with our attention, and paying with the data that tells advertisers what we'll pay attention to. In this situation, a richer UX means more control over our attention. It also means we have to work harder to determine which things are 'true' and what constitutes 'reality.' For example, with deepfakes, the immersive and realistic qualities of the technology are exactly what makes them so dangerous.


The first tenet of the Critical Engineering Manifesto by Julian Oliver states:

The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision.

This tenet could be explained as follows.

Any convenience comes at a price, and the more integral a piece of technology becomes in ones life, the more suspicious the user should be. Thus, the critical engineer must find the extents of this price and tradeoff.

I appreciate this tenet for its relevance to contemporary life in relation to technology. As we pour more of our personal lives into our cellphones and become reliant on smart assistants, it seems like convenience and privacy are on a spectrum.

A real world example of this tradeoff is using a smart assistant for location based dining. If one uses their smart assistant to find nearby restaurants, they have the convenience of a quick search, but without knowing about the device's bias in deciding what restaurants to list, one is unable to know if the device's manufacturer's are attempting to promote certain restaurants over others.

MoMar – reading01

  1. The Critical Engineer looks to the history of art, architecture, activism, philosophy and invention and finds exemplary works of Critical Engineering. Strategies, ideas and agendas from these disciplines will be adopted, re-purposed and deployed.

I see this rule as the following: "An Engineer should look back to the past to learn how to implement ideas in the present."

Interestingly, I was unknowingly following this rule for a couple of years.  I tend to look how the work was done in the past, and how I can repurpose these ideas to work in the present.

When I made Dungeon Crawler VR, I created maze-like dungeons using modular pieces which spread up the development process. This tactic is used in professional game development. The actual gameplay derived from dungeon crawlers from the 1990s.


"5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user's dependency upon it."

I interpret this tenet to mean that the Critical Engineer is responsible for understanding the potential effects their work may have on the individuals who use it. Art and technology have the capacity to change people, with this capacity being "proportional to that user's dependency upon it," meaning that the more emotional investment the consumer has in the product, the more likely it is to change them. I thought this tenet was interesting because it addresses that people engineering inanimate objects happens just as often as the opposite. A real example of this is the modern man's relationship with his smartphone. It's cliched at this point, but most citizens living in the developed world today are dependent on their smartphone for communication, information, entertainment, transportation, and more. This dependency can lead to addiction, and can alter the user's lifestyle and relationships with other people. Simultaneously, this new way to connect people around the world and access to a growing multitude of information previously unavailable to previous generations can help contribute to the user's cultural and intellectual growth.


2. The Critical Engineer raises awareness that with each technological advance our techno-political literacy is challenged.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it also becomes more invisible. We become less aware of the sociopolitical ramifications of ubiquitous technology simply because we no longer can imagine an alternative. We are conditioned to accept technology as the status quo, overlooking its implications for the benefits that are marketed toward us. One can simply look at the rise of the Internet and social media platforms to see how a widely accepted technology has convinced many people to sacrifice their privacy without much thought.

I find it interesting that this manifesto highlights this explicitly because it brings to light an invisible yet incredibly influential consequence of technology. The point itself aligns with how much of the Critical Engineer's work is simply to expose these invisible consequences of widely accepted technology.