Make Good Worlds

You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier
Mr. Lanier’s fine book – this is a must read in my opinion

Just a quick thought here: remember that what we do is to create new spaces for people to explore, new digital worlds for people to exist in. Remember that these are imaginary spaces that we can shape in any way we choose, but that the decisions we make in this regard are not as casual as we may often think.

Consider: if you design a form that requires a person to enter the sum total of their experience and human existence into three lines (“Name, Age, Gender”), what are you saying about humanity? By asking a person to reduce themselves to three lines of bland data, are you not devaluing that person at the same time? Are you not saying that the massive complexity of a person can be (on some level) reduced to these three meagre data points. Of course, we don’t intend this, but are we inferring it?

Another (perhaps less extreme) example would be creating a system that is needlessly complex and demanding of the user. In the case of recreational or non-essential software this is a relatively minor issue, since users will just vote with their feet and use a system (or inhabit a digital world) which doesn’t place such high demands on their mental capacities (or simply their patience). In the case of software that people use for essential functions, this creates a constant, repeated interaction with the system that is consistently frustrating and friction-laden. How will this impact this person’s quality of work? Or quality of life (if they hate everything about their essential tool of work)? How will it effect their attitudes towards technology and colour their subsequent interactions with other technology?

Jaron Lanier, Silicon Valley visionary, world musician and all around cool guy.
Jaron Lanier, Silicon Valley visionary, world musician and all around cool guy.

In short, when you create an experience, make sure it is a good one. Not just good in the sense of delivering on business goals or making money, but that it is an experience that is, if not always distinctly pleasurable, at least is conscious of the human component and is constructed in a way that puts human needs and perceptions first. Good in the sense of benevolent.

We are creating the spaces that human minds will inhabit well into the future. We should take this responsibility seriously and proceed with care.

This is a subject that is covered at some length in Jaron Lanier’s inspiring 2012 book “You Are Not A Gadget”. The root idea can be explained much better by the good Mr. Lanier than I could ever do in a mere blog post, so I encourage you to read this fascinating book and make your own judgements.

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