Essentially what tenet number two aims to say is that, with every advancement technology makes, technological literacy throughout society automatically ends up with a gap in it simply by virtue of there being a new innovation in existence that nobody knows about or understands yet.
A good example of this is that while most of our generation and large portions of older generations may understand quite a lot about the internet, there are still portions of modern society that not only are unaware of how to use the internet, but may not even know how to type. Computer literacy is something that, while we at CMU may take for granted, even in other parts of the country is something that not everyone understands. My grandmother, as an example, only learned how to type last year. Technological literacy is still being challenged by an invention that’s been around even for as long as computers.
5. The Critical Engineer recognizes that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.
This tenet describes a concept that is in no way new: technology’s control over our lives. Interaction with a work of engineering is a two way street. While an invention may drastically improve our lives, it also alters the life it is improving. For example, I now have access to millions of hours of music whenever and wherever I am due to my smart phone and headphones, a luxury that has only existed for the past few years. The ease with which I can listen to music means that I now have the option to disconnect from almost any social situation. I have become a more selectively social person, where unexpected auditory interaction is unheard of. I no longer overhear snippets of conversations, or strike up my own with passers-by. While I could make an active effort to counteract this, the fact remains that my default behavior has been changed by the presence of a work of engineering. Thus, the invention has engineered my social behavior to become more predictable and reclusive.
“3. The Critical Engineer deconstructs and incites suspicion of rich user experiences.”
I’ve always been fascinated with fabrications of reality. As a kid, I attended the odd magic show now and then. While the act of cutting a person in half is certainly striking, I only began to appreciate the idea of magic once I had an inkling of how it was done.
In the realm of user experience, the goal more often than not is to create something immersive and seamless. A virtual field full of blooming flowers is made up of a digital sea of text. The critical engineer is like the magician, able to envision and create false realities through countless hours of unseen toil. When an audience member begins to question the illusion, they have become a critical engineer.
Penn and Teller do a good job of demonstrating this concept, in that they explain the basic magic trick, but then take it in a different direction that invites one to question their true methods.
(Fair Warning: Going past the 3:00 minute mark is not for the faint of heart.)
Tenet number 4 urges the critical engineer to not only look at how one creates a work, but more importantly how the work changes the world around. What is interesting about this tenet is that it implores the critical engineer to understand that the work is not something that exists in a realm all its own, but shares space in a whole world of other works and people. As such, works created by the engineer are more significantly considered in what they do, rather than how they are built. Like the Machiavellian way of thinking, critical engineers must be equally if not more concerned with the ends of a work, rather than the means.
I know of no better example to this tenet than the plot of Jurassic Park (1993 film). The genetic engineers were brilliant at their craft, having resurrected creatures dead for over 65 million years, but they failed to consider the implications of doing so. One simply does not know how creatures from such a radically different environment would react to being brought into a modern world, and the result was ultimately disaster. As Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) put it, “Your scientists were so worried about whether they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should.”
The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.
This tenant states that a user of a technology will be changed based on the technology and the user’s dependency upon it. A prime example of this which is prevalent in today’s society is the use of smart phones. Smart phones have given users easy access to data such as social feeds and email in their pocket. Without them, I believe that the users who are so focused and consumed by their social feeds would not be at all the same. In this way, smart phones have engineered the society to be more dependent upon social media.
Tenent 1 of the Critical Engineering states that the Critical Engineer must constantly consider the tools that they use, and the dangers associated with these tools. They must constantly test and expose the functioning of these tools, so that they may be both trusted and improved.
I find this tenant compelling because it demands constant vigilance towards tools, which we often blindly trust despite their essential role in human progress. This is especially true in today’s digital world, where a weakness in a piece of code can be found and abused from anywhere on earth.
8. The Critical Engineer looks to the history of art, architecture, activism, philosophy and invention and finds exemplary works of Critical Engineering. Strategies, ideas and agendas from these disciplines will be adopted, re-purposed and deployed.
Critical Engineering has existed even before the term “Critical Engineer” existed. This point in the manifesto emphasizes that the community should build off each other, and learn from the mistakes of those in the past. The work the Critical Engineer makes should be open source and understandable. More so, there should be recycling of old ideas that were forgotten about or just needed some tweaks. Like every aspect of the critical engineer’s work, he or she must be resourceful and creative, that is what stuck with me about #8 in the manifesto. An example would be if a Critical Engineer sees that the theory of evolution can have influences outside the natural realm, he or she could repurpose the theory to speed up a process, and create computers that can learn. This is seen in the project Evolved Virtual Creatures (1994), Where the computer was able to learn by a mutating a surviving creature and testing again, just like the theory suggests. This, in turn, can become a springboard for even greater endeavors.
For me, this tenet is trying to communicate that as more fields in technology are being discovered, more questions and problems are being raised. This can be because some of the new ideas challenge the old ones or even that the new discoveries ope new doors that have many sub units to discover. One analogy is a house. You walk in the front door but have many other doors to open in order to access other rooms within the house. I found this tenet interesting because it seemed to be full of hope and curiosity. It got my imagination going thinking about the infinite number of possibilities that comes with discovering, not only the technology field, but any field. One example of this tenet in practice is sources of energy. with every new source of energy, new questions are raised on environmental impact and efficiency.