We form our tools and thereafter our tools form us


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Information Architecture

An information architect is tasked with the challenge of gathering the information that needs to be contained within a site and organizing that content into categories that would make sense for people who needed to find that information. Architect might be a presumptuous title for those who might be largely self-taught in the areas of design and web development. In areas of innovation, people are making things up as they go along. Information architects are making an analogy between the wayfinding systems used by environmental designers when tasked with the challenge of helping people find their way within the built environment. There was no school for information architecture at the time. We were building the future. There’s no textbook for something that has not been done before. So, we created blogs to document our process. And people would speak at conferences about how technology and design were providing opportunities to think differently about the way we were working and to understand these new responsibilities.

An Industrial Revolution

As industries and corporations began to understand that the Internet was not just a hobby but a new frontier for branding, marketing, and sales that had the power to disrupt their businesses, they realized that their survival was at stake. So, the speculation began. The gold rush ended with the end of the dot com bubble. The survivors were the ones who could create a product that could garner enough attention to attract investment. They could bolt on a business model once they had reached a certain level of market penetration, with early adopters influencing the wider adoption of new technologies. Advertising was the easiest model to assimilate, since it was a proven tool from the old industrial model of business. Since the disruption of old business models involved the transformation of the artefacts of business from tangible to electronic, from print to digital, from manual to automated, those who could be first to market in the development of the technological tools and disruptive business models would be the winners in the economic race for digital supremacy.

Corporate Entities

Corporations are formed to create efficient hierarchies of management and labour that lead to market dominance and an accumulation of capital that is self-perpetuating. The corporate structure is a legal impersonation of a human entity. The corporate entity embodies the capitalist ideal. It is the tangible, corporeal expression of an economic system. It represents the body of work generated by the individuals that are members of the organization.

Why is this system so dehumanizing? The terminology takes biology and reduces it to abstractions. The corporation disembodies human beings.

  • Organization = organism (replaces human biology)
  • Corporation = body (replaces human entity)
  • Organizational chart = members (replaces human body parts)
  • Media = knowledge (replaces human memory)
  • Artificial intelligence = cognition (replaces human brain)
  • Autonomous vehicles = action (replaces human mobility)
  • Profit motive = sex (replaces human reproduction)

We could take the more positive view of this and say, as Marshall McLuhan might have, that these systems and technologies are extensions of man. These tools extend, enhance and increase human capacities.

The dystopian view leads to music, art and film that exposes the darker side of these developments. We create machines to serve us, but, not only are the machines no longer serving us, they, as the artificially superior inventions, intend to replace us.

There is a reason for the rise in eastern religious thought about embodiment and mindfulness. It is a reaction to the system that we have designed for ourselves that intends to create disembodied, mindless drones who fulfill the intentions of the central nervous system and brain of the economic system. Reproduction and survival of the corporate species depends upon the profit motive. As soon as machines become more capable than humans, humans are expendable in such a system.

By controlling capital, corporations have the economic means to dominate public conversation, public policy, commercial real estate, urban development, municipal regulations, and political decision-making.

Social Architecture

We have been in the process of designing and building this system for centuries. It is a monolithic system that we have designed to manage our economic, political, and ontological social architecture.

Jesse James Garrett has been saying recently, that the scope of design is expanding to encompass all of human experience: perception (senses), cognition (mind), emotion (heart), and action (body). Given that responsibility, we must turn our attention to designing the designer. He makes a case for creating a more humane humanity.

I cannot help but worry when people start monetizing one’s sense of belonging. Of course, that has been happening in the form of cities, religious organizations, political institutions, military empires and nation states for millennia. It was only a logical sequence of events that corporate branding should now fulfill that role.

One begins to question the fictions that we uphold as values. Gold, silver, bronze, iron. Coins and paper or plastic bank notes. Bitcoins, Etherium and Zen. Value is literally vanishing into nothingness.

We already live in a dystopia where humans are expendable, cheap commodities. The past five centuries are a case in point. Humans are pawns in war, cogs in factories, currency in a global slave trade, objects of sexual exploitation, refuse on our streets.

When the only way that we can express human value is in time served for exploitation and murder, we have lost any sense of the value of a life. How shall we deconstruct our dehumanizing systems and rediscover our own humanity?

We need a different story than the ones we have been handed from previous generations. The election of 45 represents an earthquake that has shaken our social architecture. This event signals the end of a narrative that has run its course and has been exposed as a dangerous falsehood that threatens our survival. We have designed a system of oppression, and it is crumbling around us. The cracks in our social architecture are becoming chasms that threaten to swallow us all. But amidst the darkness, cracks of light are becoming beacons of opportunity.

As we survey the damage of the earthquake and ongoing aftershocks of the past year, in the same way the film, The Human Scale, surveyed the damage of the earthquake in Christchurch, we face a challenge, but also an opportunity. We can rebuild by thinking about the long now, the legacy that we leave for future generations. We can engage everyone in a conversation about what could be. We can together design a different system. We can create models and prototypes. We can create virtual simulations. We can test them in real life.

The human project must start with the questions that will help us understand our own reality. Then we can assess the risks and challenges. We can prioritize. We can conceptualize. We can create. We can imagine, design, and build.

Can we start with the basics first?

Food, clothing, and shelter for all.

By accomplishing this, we can aspire to find value in each other by spending our time, energy, and resources for the good of all, and so rediscover our own humanity. That alone is reason enough to fulfill the human need for meaning, purpose, and belonging.