Technology and Control: the Designer v. the User

Chapter Two: Framing Conversations about Technology” of “Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart” by Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day looks at the differing views of technology from the dystopic to the utopic.  The authors make some interesting comparisons between the technology we have now with the technology of the recent past, as well as some very interesting comments.

Nardi and O’Day have noticed that although the advance of technology is seen as inevitable, people do not critically evaluate the technologies they use, even though they have been designed and chosen by people.  In other words, we accept the technology that is placed before us but we forget that we have a choice as to the type of technology we actually use and the way in which we use it.

The authors compare the differing views of Nicholas Negroponte (technophile and director of the MIT Media Lab) and Clifford Stoll, author of “Silicon’s Snake Oil”, programmer and astronomer.  Interestingly, although their views are remarkably different (one utopic, the other dystopic), they both agree that “the way technology is designed and used is beyond the control of the people who are not technology experts” (Nardi & O’Day).

Nevertheless, people often use technology in ways that are completely different from the way in which the designer intended. For example, Johnny Chung Lee has developed some interesting and unusual uses for the Nintendo Wii controller.  Thinking out of the box can bring control back to the user and it’s probably fair to say that we all (from expert users to newbies) use the technology we have in ways which weren’t even considered by designers, even if it’s just using a CD as a coaster for a coffee mug.

So although technology (hardware and software) designers may only have a limited perspective on the way in which they expect their technology to be used, once it is out in the public domain, alternative uses or ways of working will often be developed and exploited. 

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