Biased Screens and Us

We should always what parts of technology is true and false. In an attempt to identify what should be common knowledge among anybody who uses, or is dependent on, digital technology (this is basically all of us) Alex Krotoski has written a report The Personal (Computer) Is Political: Recommendations for the rest of us for the Nominet Trust. From the presentation

To be able to fully participate in our physical and digital communities requires a range of actions and understanding. The value of the technical skills of coding and programming and the creativity of making and designing digital products are well understood, but at the heart of our ambition to support young people’s digital making is understanding how digital technologies are made. This understanding can come about through the process of digital making, or of tinkering with existing digital products, but it is this understanding that is so important.

We are constantly drawn in by the convenience of our shiny devices but we seldom think about the ways in which our devices are biased. We tend to trust what appears in front of us on our screens despite knowing that the screen is a device capable of extreme manipulation. We need to be critical both to the content that is delivered by our technology and by the technology itself (the focus of Krotoski’s report). She writes:

Becoming a critical consumer of technology isn’t just the responsibility of our teachers, our policy makers or software developers: we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge and the know-how to break out of our technofundamentalist trappings, and to wrestle our lives back from the machines.

On her website she publishes four obvious, but often overlooked, points that we should always be aware of in relation to our technology.

  • Be aware that software developers do not necessarily have your individual wellbeing as their priority.
  • Demand more from developers. You are their customer, and if your interests and needs are not being met, don’t adapt yourself to the system; expect it to adapt to you.
  • Consider how well you are able to express yourself in software, and whether this is adequate. Assess if what you want and need changes in the future, that the software is flexible and responsive enough to allow you to change. Consider the implications of your interactions with the service should that service change its conditions for use.
  • In all of your interactions with technology, consider the assumptions and biases held by the developers.

fry-can-t-tell-meme-generator-can-t-tell-if-truth-or-lie-bf08edThe problem is that the convenience offered by our technology allows us to both know this and simultaneously believe that what appears on our screens is (mostly) true. It is easier for us to doubt the truth of images and facts we find online (because we have been fooled before) but we tend not to question the bias built into our systems.

Also check out Alex’s book Untangling the Web


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