david a banks
intro’d to David here via Nathan:
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/nathanjurgenson/status/956232432453173248
think the essay is a start at explaining the recent tech embracing of Turkle, “mindfulness”, “healthy tech”, and other self-help frameworks that tend to be deeply conservative https://t.co/u22vRP9bII
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/nathanjurgenson/status/956233881098727424
Engineering has long had a reputation as a “war-built” discipline, ..Nieusma and Blue, experts in the field’s pedagogy and history, respectively, note that engineering labor has not strayed far from its military origins. Engineers are trained to “plug into chain-of-command decision making structures that direct and constrain the input provided by individual engineers and engineering generally.” Engineering students are taught that this is the only way to organize their work. Engineering is a collective endeavor that needs a team and those teams are usually corporations. Or, at least, that’s the mentality that corporate-led engineering accreditation organizations have fostered over the years…engineers have little ethics oversight outside of the institutions that write their paychecks.
Technology is ordering our lives and inflicting stricter, more authoritarian modes of control. For the modal engineer, this is a good thing. It brings order to entropy, limiting individual autonomy in favor of systems performance.
The Nicholas Carrs and Sherry Turkles of the world provide a puppet opposition that leaves political power intact while finger-wagging at teenagers and working people. It is this double false choice that makes any sort of radical critique of engineering come off as Luddite rambling.
It should be said that many people who choose the engineering profession are motivated by an earnest desire to help people. Many of the engineering students I have had the pleasure of teaching have been some of the most compassionate and politically astute people I have met. The particularly sharp ones are also, speaking generally, the ones who already feel ostracized from the professional community they have only barely met. They notice that the career fairs are dominated by military contractors and vigorously apolitical tech companies. They chafe at the needlessly imposed hierarchy and sacrifice-the-body-for-the-mind culture.
In one such class I worked with, students were asked to spend a semester working in teams to design an organization. Despite working independently on radically different projects, every single group made competition an integral part of their design.
Things work, be they bridges or *societies, when all the components are predictable and behave the way they are told.
What Gambetta and Hertog are not clear on, is whether engineering attracts authoritarians or makes them. Of course, the answer is probably a mix of individuals’ self-selection and the cultivation of the qualities that lead to the sorting in the first place. But if I had to choose which factor was stronger, my money is on the latter: that there is something about engineering pedagogy that encourages authoritarianism.
I got a liberal arts education and it taught me that America is an apartheid state and capitalism is beyond reform. I doubt Jeff Bezos wants me to make an app about that.
All of this might be less worrying if there was a robust and popular movement against this authoritarian engineering establishment that manufactures its own worst enemy. What we have instead are people who prescribe block chains and disconnection sleepaway camps. The former conflates encryption and privacy tools with confronting the corrupting influence of power. The latter clutch their pearls at teenagers and wax nostalgic about conversations and deep thinking
let’s try a nother way
privacy advocates have spent so much time hyping and developing encryption technologies that we are in danger of ignoring the politics that make encryption necessary in the first place.
Busy parents and lonely kids are often the biggest targets of invective for finding escapism or connection on screens while corporate bosses are celebrated for mild changes to governance structures so as to require in-person meetings instead of Skype calls.
Damore, like the Unabomber, only differs from the Silicon Valley consensus in that he has a different take on the same set of basic premises.
In times like these it is important to remember that border walls, nuclear missiles, and surveillance systems do not work, and would not even exist, without the cooperation of engineers.
We must begin teaching young engineers that their field is defined by care and humble assistance, not blind obedience to authority.