Note — Nov 01, 2020

Race to the Future? Reimagining the Default Settings of Technology & Society

Seen in → No.148

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Wonderful, wonderful Mossman Lecture at McGill University by Professor Ruha Benjamin on racism in technology and society and some of the impacts and dangers of default settings (pls excuse my extremely imprecise TL;DR). I always find videos harder to summarize and expand on but this lecture includes how blackness has been used as a foil to emphasize perceived superiority, racism as a substrate of society, techno determinism, power, etc. Some of the important points to pay attention to and keep in mind for later: how revealing racism, inequality, and power is also a great way to highlight how just a tiny slice of humanity monopolises resources; how it’s important to consider inputs, impacts, and the social milieu when analyzing these technological systems; we can find racism not only in the services / apps themselves, but even in how the creators felt the need for these apps to exist. Benjamin usefully provides the three main takeaways in one slide: racism is productive, it constructs; race and technology are coproduced; imagination is a field of action (not super clear just quoted like this but watch the lecture!).

Most people are forced to live inside other people’s imagination. […]

We can’t ignore the need of some for social domination. […]

“To see things as they really are, you must imagine them for what they might be.” —Professor Derrick Bell […]

If inequity is woven into the very fabric of society, then each twist, coils, and code is a chance for us to weave new patterns, practices, and politics. It’s vastness will be its undoing once we accept that we are pattern makers.