Rat killing machines can include poisoning, trapping, cats, sticks, drowning, electric shocks, staring (see ‘Men who stare at goats’), and surely, if the rats are a delicacy, they can be taken as a source of food. None of the rat killing tool can be said to be better than another, because they do not merely fulfill the task of killing rats but also embody the relationship that respective individuals have with rats, and their human needs and values in time.
A rat killing machine must embody shifting human needs and values
The introduction of technology – idea, institution, or tool – into the lives of humans with the intention of bettering their situation must be preceded with a thorough experience and comprehension of the human experience, on a level that is as human – subjective – as possible. In addition, such change must be coupled with the acknowledgement that human values and needs are variant and dynamic. Thus, deployed technology should be as disposable and modifiable as possible so as not to inhibit human spontaneity, ingenuity, and shifts in their needs and values.
Needs and values are subjective
The processes of designing, using, modifying and disposing off of technology intended for the betterment of the human experience must be left in the hands of every individual, for it is in those processes that an individual can build their unique needs into the technology, understand its impact on their lives and have the ability to modify or do away with it, to accommodate their shifting needs and values, and a balance that is suitable for them, individually. Any other alternative inescapably is an imposition of the values and needs of others on the individual.
Indiscernible effects of technology
A lack of individual control in the design, use, modification and disposing off of technology inevitably creates a manipulative and exploitative dependency. On the one hand, we have the user, who as a result of being detached from these processes, increasingly becomes unconcerned with the design of the tool, and thus is deprived of learning how to organically design for himself. This dependency on another party to fulfill the needs and values of an individual inevitably results to what has been termed ‘invisible curriculum’ in schooling. In such a relationship, the user is inherently blinded and prevented from understanding all aspects of the technology they use, especially the disadvantages that it imposes on them.
If my tools are designed for me, I naturally become less concerned with, or worse blinded from the process in which they are designed including the materials that are used and the impact to environment and other entities. On the other hand, the designer – the party which designs tools for me – gains an upper hand in our relationship and stands to benefit by strengthening and propagating my dependency on him.
Most importantly, in such a set up, it must also be noted that I am prevented from having critical thought. If I am in a position to design my own tools, I am likely to be in a position to see their upsides and downsides. However, once I am detached from the design, then most likely, whatever technology is appropriated to me is ‘advertised’ without a critical analysis of its potential impact – both good and bad – to me as its user.
The individual who is deprived of human reality is also deprived of truth. He is separated from his concrete human and social reality, deprived of a consciousness of the practical, historical and social whole; even though, nowadays, given modern social structure, science and techniques, such consciousness is both possible and necessary. Turned back upon himself, secure within some imaginary inner fortress, he is the plaything of every hallucination, every spontaneous or deliberate ideological illusion. – Henri Lefebvre
The invisible curriculum
Surely, we have an innate desire for learning. However, to assume that another party can have better understanding of an individual’s learning needs, and values, and their shifting over time, can only result to a tool better known as the schooling system. The tool inherently prevents the individual from designing their education according to their needs and values, and thus invites them to appropriate themselves to be used by the tool that another party designs. Inevitably, the individual stands to be exploited in various ways by the tool and its designers. The tool, not only limits the subjects of learning, but also inherently the fields of knowledge and thought. This should be of concern to any learner. From the onset, it suppresses individual interest, spontaneity, expression and ingenuity.
Regrettably, none will be more hopelessly enslaved than those who will lose the awareness that their freedom is alienated from them (Goethe).
Technology; the medium, is the message
Technology is not neutral when it embodies human needs and values. By itself, technology is implicated even before it is taken into use. Even though a language enables communication, it, in addition, also permits and restricts certain views of reality. It embodies our needs and values in its structure – how we relate to nature and others, what we can talk about and what we cannot. If a language is a box, then it enables us to effectively talk about things in the box, while it restricts our view and our talking of anything residing outside the box. The fact that the medium is made for us, then, inevitably, needs and values are also made for us, and in most cases, we have no say over the matter.
Inherently, we are deprived critical thought, we are dumbed down. We are in Waking Sleep, a state of consciousness in which we are completely immersed in some a phenomenon yet we are unaware of all consequences we suffer from it.
In waking sleep we ingest the parts of others their values, attitudes, opinions or other aspects of their personalities, and incorporate them into our image of our self.
Of the dumbed down user, his submission to the designed artifact follows a trajectory such that, the more he uses it, the less he lives; the more readily he recognizes his own needs in the tools and practices proposed by the designer, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires (Guy Debord – the society of spectacle). Effectively since he merely follow a script, merely appropriating himself to the values and needs of others, he becomes impoverished in his capacities.
If there are a 100 ways to kill a rat, a rat killing tool can only accommodate a few if more than one. Thus by using a tool designed for us, we have to set aside our individual shifting needs and values for killing the rat and assume those embodied by the tool. A rat killing tool appropriated to us freezes our needs and values in time or else also exerts the values and needs of its designer on us. However, when we each design a rat killing tool for ourselves, we not only learn how to design, but we are also at will to alter our design to accommodate our shifting needs and values – insights we gather through the design and use of the tool – and eventually to do away with our tool if we deem it useless to our needs.
Design for oneself / Organic design
The embodiment of one’s shifting needs and values by a design, implies an organic design; ‘design for oneself’. Design for oneself, or organic design implies simplicity in design as any tool designed is within the bounds of one’s values, needs, ingenuity, spontaneity and critical thought at any given time. In other words, the tool lacks any complexity that can surpass these capacities and thus can be used with minimal possibility of using the user.
“The more needs a human being has, the more he exists. The more powers and aptitudes he is able to exercise, the more he is free.” – Henri Lefebvre
Any tool that surpasses or freezes the capacities of its users – the needs, values, ingenuity, spontaneity, critical thought – is inherently a complex tool. Inescapably, a complex tool, when used, potentially stands to use its user.
“The human being ceas[es] to be human [and] is turned into another tool to be used by other tools” (Henri Lefebvre).
In other words, whatever complexity the tool bears – e.g. in its needs or values – can be a means for abusing the user. This is true regardless of the form the tool takes. Whether it be a legal or technical contract, a derivative (complex algorithm for financial trading), a school curriculum, a computer or even a hammer.
A 100+ rat killing machines
Rat killing machines can include poisoning, trapping, cats, sticks, drowning, electric shocks, staring (see ‘Men who stare at goats’), and surely, if the rats are a delicacy, there is no reason why they cannot be taken as a source of food. What is clear in these hypothetical tools is the varying human needs and values implied and critical thought revealed through various connections and meanings to the larger ecological context.
None of the rat killing tool can be said to be better than another, because they do not merely fulfill the task of killing rats but also embody the relationship that respective individuals have with rats, and their human needs and values in time.