A traditional saltbox house in Change Islands, Newfoundland
We analyze and design digital technology as a cultural phenomenon. The act of designing technologies does not simply create functionality; it also offers possibilities for action, ways of looking at the world, and modes through which we can relate to one another. In our group, we use interpretive methods such as ethnography and history to understand the cultural values and ideas that are embodied in technology design and to analyze their social and cultural impact. We use methods from design practice to explore alternative design spaces and to suggest pathways to other forms of social impact.
One of our current emphases is on questions around modernization: what does it mean to become modern? What role is technology thought to play in this process? What hopes and aspirations are embodied in it? How do these work out in practice, and what alternatives can we imagine? We are exploring these questions through engagement with people outside the mainstream of technology design, such as villagers in a small, traditional community off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada; Icelandic fishermen; and Jamaican mobile app developers.
A second current emphasis is in using design as a way to speculate about alternate pasts and futures. We are using experimental, open-ended design methods to reflect, communicate, and deepen early ethnographic insights, to analyze what was and could have been at stake in historical case studies, and to raise awareness of the values and politics embodied in historical and contemporary technology design work.
A third current emphasis is in tracing the emerging entanglements between people and data. We focus on data collection, analysis, and representation as simultaneously social and technical practices. What needs does the contemporary cultural proliferation of data meet, how does it shift existing practices, and what logics emerge when practices become organized around audit traces? How does working with data change the way we approach and understand ourselves and the world around us; what does it newly reveal and what does it obscure?
We draw from, contribute to, and mutually inform human-computer interaction, design research, and Science & Technology Studies.