Part IV: Critical Approaches

What specific lines of inquiry inform quality contributions to the critical discourse? How are critiques sharpened through precision and focus?

Design and Form

How technologies are designed matters. What affordances do they have? How do they direct and constrain possible uses? What are they optimizing for? And what are the political and social influences they reveal? How do the design, development, and structures of technology shape its nature, uses, and impact? How can we pay attention to elements of the materiality of technology and infrastructure that are otherwise hidden or taken for granted?

Reception and Use

How people actually use technology is as important as the invention of it. What is it like to live with technologies? How are they adopted? How do people think about their own use of technology? How do users’ practices and behaviors differ from those of technologists and designers?

Ideology and Rhetoric

What are the underlying assumptions and unspoken values behind technological change? How can we critically examine a system of technological production that purports to depoliticize through objectivity? What are the principles that guide engineers and investors, and how do those principles shape the culture of technologists? How do those principles propagate in the world?

Power, Diversity, Feminism

How are marginalized people represented in the design, development, and use of technologies? Who gets to design and build technologies? And how do systems of power perpetuate structural forms of bias? In a white, male-dominated Silicon Valley, how do critics surface intersectional concerns? What are technologies’ relationship to power structures and how are technologies employed as tools for control? How can designers better respond to and respect users’ diverse and dynamic needs?

Economics and Labor

If technologies disrupt markets, how do they do so? How does one market come to replace another? How does Silicon Valley influence the nature of work, both in building a new work culture and in supplanting traditional structures of institutional labor? What can “follow-the-money” journalism tell us about priorities and power in technological development?

Humanities, Ethics, Aesthetics

How can we read technologies as texts? All technologies are human constructions, so how can we evaluate their ethics and aesthetics as such? How do technologies extend and constrain human experience?


Everything old is new again. What is uniquely new about new technologies? What can we learn from their predecessors? What can we learn about the trajectory of technologies by looking both at successes and failures? How can we avoid what Tom Standage calls “chronocentricity”—the egoism that your own generation is living in the cusp of history—by looking to the past?

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