Introduced by reframing expert Gijs Ockeloen and presented by philosopher Johan Melse, Techno Morality was an exciting event that allowed participants to reflect on the role of technology as a mediator of social interaction.
Report by Rafael Heiber

In this activation session at WDCD Live 2017, participants were provoked by a question once posed by French anthropologist Bruno Latour to illustrate the ‘Actor-Network Theory’: Do weapons kill people or do people kill people? The essence of the question was to show how the existence of the weapon, and the meanings and uses inscribed in the artefact, change the entire chain of actions and promote symbiosis between humans and nonhuman entities. The answer to the question is clear: mundane cyborgs take action and practice morality.

Designers materialize morality

Since technology mediates human interactions, designing technology is designing what humans are supposed to be and do. Designing means, in this sense, improving human actions by imagining in advance the moral effects of such actions. Nevertheless, some unintended side-effects might only be discovered after the designed artefact is used in everyday life. The classic example is the case of the first generation of bulbs designed to save electricity, but which actually increased electricity consumption instead by changing behaviour: people stopped turning off lights.

Climate change or global warming?

Technology frames the problem and can be part of the solution, so the right questions need to be addressed from the beginning. What is the cause of the problem? Who is responsible and who is affected? How to define/redefine mediations? Technology can be designed to mitigate the effects of global warming as a long-term tendency on our planet, or it can be systemically redesigned to stop the anthropic contamination that impacts our climate.

Autonomy versus freedom

Technology is never neutral and there is never an absence of power. That being said, autonomy is never an individual condition to be fully accomplished but always regulated. The terms of the regulation will lead individuals and society to different levels of freedom. A good example can be found in the traffic system where cars need to follow a set of rules, and those rules keep an organized environment where drivers feel free to move and the entire system is shaped to convince people that cars are the best way to practice freedom.

Top photo: A peek at the session in action (photo Leo Veger)

TECHNO MORALITY was one of four Activation Sessions exploring the theme of climate action and technology at WDCD Live Amsterdam 2017.


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