Reading Response #4

to Artful Design, Chapter 4: Programmability and Sound Design

Frankie S.

2022 October 23

Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University

Reading Response: Technology is always a means-to-an-end

This week in artful design I was particularly struck by principle 4.9: the purpose of a computer is to do something else. Particularly the quote 'technology is always a means-to-an-end and never an end-in-itself'. This struck me as particularly interesting as a take from Ge as it feels pretty bold to claim, and maybe even more surprisingly coming from a computer scientist. Is computing itself an art form? A craft that has been studied in our time as the great study of philosophy that was done in the past? To be honest I’m not sure. I’m interested with how this type of thinking might influence the way we view computers and computer science. We could use some humility in the field because the amount of money and prestige we are willing to throw at 21-year-olds these days is absurd. I wish ever computer scientist at this school was required to take this class or read this book or even just speak with Ge to hear his design philosophy and passion for making as a playful way to discover and express.

I also really appreciated the call out in principle 4.5, which addresses the particular use cases of a computer. When we design things with computers that are only possible with computers we make the method meaningful, but when we hastily replace functions in society without a design mind we risk losing some key pieces of an experience. Take reading for example. It is possible to capture a book and its letters on a digital form but there are other details you can’t replicate. The depth of the pages, the physical feedback of progress as the pages in your right hand widely down, the way the pages smell and feel as you pick up each page and leaf it forward. These are integral pieces of the reading experience that are lost by automation. I want to extend this principle to include large scale impact considerations and digital design. A designer is responsible for the societal implications that their work places on society at large (I’m looking at you Facebook). And just because you can automate or digitize something (like social interaction), doesn’t mean we are better for it. Because of this I believe designers are responsible for admitting their failures and fixing the problems that they cause before they are responsible to their shareholders and partners. Mediums have the power to create unintended consequences (ie: emergent properties at scale) and they should be treated cautiously as a result.