The week in quotes (2019W05)

Sebastian Greger

As every week, I again encountered some texts that made me think and that I consider worth sharing:

Rachel Andrew, in a passionate piece about the obsession with overcomplicating web development and its negative impact on access to participation, for the less privileged in particular:

When we talk about HTML and CSS these discussions impact the entry point into this profession. Whether front or backend, many of us without a computer science background are here because of the ease of starting to write HTML and CSS. The magic of seeing our code do stuff on a real live webpage! We have already lost many of the entry points that we had. We don’t have the forums of parents teaching each other HTML and CSS, in order to make a family album. Those people now use Facebook, or perhaps run a blog on or SquareSpace with a standard template.

The Harvard Gazette on “Embedding ethics in computer science curriculum” at Harvard:

“Ethics permeates the design of almost every computer system or algorithm that’s going out in the world,” Grosz said. “We want to educate our students to think not only about what systems they could build, but whether they should build those systems and how they should design those systems.”

“Standalone courses can be great, but they can send the message that ethics is something that you think about after you’ve done your ‘real’ computer science work,” Simmons said. “We want to send the message that ethical reasoning is part of what you do as a computer scientist.”

Andy Greenberg on “abusability testing” in tech, citing former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani:

[…] it’s time for Silicon Valley to take the potential for unintended, malicious use of its products as seriously as it takes their security. From Russian disinformation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to YouTube extremism to drones grounding air traffic, Soltani argues, tech companies need to think not just about protecting their own users but about what he calls abusability: the possibility that users could exploit their tech to harm others, or the world.

Most firms still don’t put serious resources toward the problem, Soltani says, and even fewer bring in external consultants to assess their abusability. An outside perspective, Soltani argues, is critical to thinking through the possibilities for unintended uses and consequences that new technologies create.

John Harris’ Guardian op-ed reflects on the change of human condition, as the “private self” died in the attention economy, possibly rendering everybody eternal teenagers:

Put another way, endless performance, the craven pursuit of approval and worrying about what other people think of us might be quintessentially adolescent behaviour, but millions of people of a much more advanced age are doing exactly those things on a minute-by-minute basis, usually via Facebook. And in that context, the 15th anniversary of Mark Zuckerberg’s invention might be a good time to take a step back, and consider whether we are suffering from a huge outbreak of collective arrested development, with all the pain and dysfunction that entails.

Even in the company of other people, there are times when we need to withdraw into ourselves and savour an essentially private moment of transcendence. […] I often wonder, in fact, whether social media platforms and smartphones are the root cause of one very irksome aspect of life in the 21st century: the way people now endlessly chat during musical performances, seemingly unaware that if they concentrated silently on what was happening onstage, they might have a much better time.

A (more or less) weekly collection of inspiring, surprising or otherwise noteworthy texts, talks and podcasts. Usually around my core topics of usability, ethics, and digital society. Previous issues in the archive.

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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