[ISEA2011] Panel: Gor­don Hush – With De­sign in Mind?: “moral econ­omy” and con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal cul­ture

Panel Statement

Panel: Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion is often char­ac­terised as pro­duc­ing a pop­u­la­tion com­posed of “tempted” bod­ies, cor­rupted de­sires or utopian po­ten­tial dis­torted by un­lim­ited pos­si­bil­ity, and jux­ta­posed to a now-fore­gone sim­pler era and ex­is­tence. Such a moral econ­omy of human ac­tiv­ity is re­flected in the “moral pan­ics” con­jured around dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and the dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects upon users at­trib­uted to them. This paper seeks to ex­plore the re­la­tion be­tween sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence (con­scious­ness) and the con­tem­po­rary en­vi­ron­ment, in par­tic­u­lar, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy within mo­bile de­vices, such as lap­tops, tablets and “smart­phones”. Re­cent the­o­ret­i­cal po­si­tions, such as “neu­roan­thro­pol­ogy,” de­lin­eat­ing the “en­cul­tured brain”, ap­pear suited to en­gag­ing dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and their pu­ta­tive con­se­quences: how­ever, the so­ci­o­log­i­cal study of tech­nol­ogy and “tools” also pro­vides a plat­form for such an analy­sis. This paper at­tempts to iden­tify the affini­ties and op­po­si­tions be­tween these two dis­courses and their re­spec­tive ex­am­i­na­tions of mo­bile dig­i­tal de­vices through an analy­sis of the “ex­ten­sion” of ex­pe­ri­ence (McLuhan) and the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of our un­der­stand­ing of its neu­ro­log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning. It does so by propos­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence be grasped as a se­ries of in­ter­ac­tions best judged as af­fec­tive phe­nom­ena, rather than events with moral con­se­quences. “Con­scious­ness” is de­scribed as a phe­nom­e­non that is en­acted or in­hab­ited through a di­a­logue with the wider en­vi­ron­ment and, as such, is mod­i­fied through the in­creas­ing pre­pon­der­ance of mo­bile dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and the trans­for­ma­tion of tem­po­ral, spa­tial and in­ter-sub­jec­tive re­la­tions that this af­fords. Con­se­quently the moral econ­omy en­com­pass­ing right/wrong, truth/fal­sity, sa­cred/pro­fane is viewed as an­ti­quated and in­ap­pro­pri­ate in a world where tech­no­log­i­cal free­doms have trans­formed the pos­si­bil­i­ties of sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion as iden­tity or iden­ti­ties through web-based media or so­cial media.

  • Dr. Gor­don Hush is a so­ci­ol­o­gist who now heads the Prod­uct De­sign de­part­ment of The Glas­gow School of Art, UK. He tends to focus upon the re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and things and tries to ex­plain this in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence(s) since this avoids hav­ing to talk about human na­ture. His PhD was sup­posed to be about peo­ple using shop­ping cen­tres but ended up tak­ing so­cial the­ory to task for its re­liance upon econ­o­mistic as­sump­tions and their role in shap­ing human ac­tiv­ity. He is cur­rently in­ter­ested in find­ing out how de­sign prac­tice can con­tribute to and be ma­te­ri­al­ized in and through local ac­tiv­i­ties, ex­pe­ri­ences and ar­ti­facts and so serve as a counter to glob­al­iz­ing forces and their “out­sourc­ing” of jobs, money and op­por­tu­nity. To this end he is cur­rently set­ting up a new Mas­ters pro­gramme at The Glas­gow School of Art in De­sign & Cit­i­zen­ship.

Full text (PDF) p. 1254-1259