Note — May 10, 2020

Life Less Normal

Looking at the “normal” in this period of crises, this time from the practice of Human–computer interaction (HCI) which “studies the design and use of computer technology.” How technoscientific systems and infrastructures, focused on measurement, automation, and optimization affect how these systems impact society, how practitioners in the field need to consider the broader impact of their work. More importantly and interestingly, how the “normal” situation / life / world is often not a good place to be for marginalized folx, and again, as has been a recurring theme in the last few issues, how these impacts and inequalities need to be put front and center when considering which “normal” will be built or restarted.

Speaking of normals, quick blurb here where Jacinda Ardern speaks of achieving a “safer normal”, “not a return to business as usual.”

For people often assigned to the margins—people of color, the homeless, the colonized, the disabled, the low-waged, the unemployed, the displaced, and so on—normalcy relies on long histories of prejudice and continued exploitation. For many millions, globally, “the normal” is a life in precarity that demands continued endurance. […]

Technoscientific systems and infrastructures that seek to monitor and optimize human behavior and productivity, or that manage the functioning and health of bodies, enforce an idea of normal that obscures the brutal realities and erases those at the margins, sometimes violently. […]

Everything from access to testing and ventilation equipment, to the machinery for “rebooting the economy,” to distributing state-backed welfare, need to be examined to understand how the sociotechnical, the sociopolitical, and healthcare are being entangled. And how these entanglements are amplifying already deeply set injustices and discrimination. […]

It should then be clear that the technologies we are preoccupied with in HCI—technologies that count, monitor, calculate, identify, etc., all across geographically dispersed networks of fiber and wireless communication channels—are implicated in a version of normal that is exploitative and injust. […]

We need to be imagining worlds that resist singular or monolithic ways of valuing life, that question the logics of extraction and transaction, and that make possible a multiplicity of ways of living together.