With allies like these!

Just found this story at Business Week, in it a David McClure writes about the importance of design for business.  This was once an issue I strongly supported, especially while I was fighting to make the same case in a corporate environment a few years ago.  At this point, I think it’s just another bit of slick blather attempting to shore up deep rot.

Rot is something anyone involved with boats knows something about.  Traditional wooden boats, especially old ones, are prone to rot and one spends a lot of time and effort attempting to “deal” with it.  Fiberglas boats were to be the panacea!  They wouldn’t rot!  This was bandied about at the same time that nuclear power was claimed to be on the verge of giving us electricity that would be “too cheap to meter!”  If we were all going to be Jetsons soon, why deal with something as icky as rot?

Fiberglass boats rot.  They have wood components in most if not all, and these are now not only more susceptible to decay but are now impossible to keep an eye on or to repair without tearing a boat apart.  On the other hand, while fiberglass boats rot, including degradation of their all-mighty petrochemicals, they are also effectively “immortal.”  They become useless but don’t disappear.

This is an example of pernicious resilience, taking a poorly examined condition, calling it a “problem” and then developing a “solution” that infantilizes the people involved – by masking an aspect of reality by assuming it can be vaulted over instead of faced – and creates a result that is more pernicious than the original fault.

Designers should be people who more readily see the pitfalls on this track and find ways to improve lives.  This can be done, it’s hard and nobody wants to pay for it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

The point that brought home the problem with McClure’s pitch became crystal clear when I read his definition of design:  the creation of an “Addictive User Experience.” Not since the days of the first Opium Wars, has there been such transparency in the naked aims of business!  That a bright young shiny face like his could beam out with pride next to such a statement shows the level of cluelessness we live under today.  This is the same day an earnest report from the BBC on how the “next generation of the elites in Pyongyang, North Korea” might be able to become enlightened enough by learning English that they won’t repeat their parent’s and grandparent’s grievous errors!  Telling us again with an eager and straight face that those in the capital city of the “Hermit Kingdom” are completely isolated from the realities in the rest of the country!

I wish I lived in a world where just making these statements would lead to the overturning of the attitudes behind them!  That would be my version of keeping myself isolated and uninformed.  These voices are amongst the most “progressive” in the land, the land of Idiocracy.

How can the power of “compartmentalizing” be so strong?  At what point do these “tools” start to see they toil to further their own subjugation?  If my work is to maximize the powers of addiction over those who use what I have to sell, then not only “How do I sleep at night?” but how do I keep from becoming just another addict in the pool of consumers?  There’s the compartment where “I work.”  OK, That’s creepy, but maybe clear.  Then there’s what, another compartment “Where I live?”  How is that kept separate?  What keeps the results of that first effort in that other compartment from leaking across?  Or, has there been such a Stockholm Syndrome of acceptance of the rationales of their oppressors that they don’t even care any longer?

It’s hard not to adopt a language that is superficially similar to an old leftist critique at moments like this.  The danger is being swept under the rug along with that misguided effort.  Especially in a world where it’s righteous to proclaim the latest shibboleth and never examine whether there might be a nuance to be gained by looking closer, delving deeper.

I’m afraid this post won’t get beyond this statement of incredulity and exasperation.  With allies like these….

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