Michael Sacasas: 41 Key Questions to Ask About Our Technology

Via Wendy Hoenkamp of the Dutch Consumer Watchdog (Consumentenbond) I was pointed to this Ezra Klein Show podcast that interviewed Michael Sacasas. The interview referred to key questions to ask when implementing and applying new technology.

I highly recommend learning more about what is discussed here, either by listening to the podcast of to ponder Michael’s list of questions (see below). By doing so you allow yourself to view technology from a wholly different, much more holistic perspective.

The podcast (transcript is here) starts with some introductory talk about how tech influences how we perceive the world around us. How for instance in a Zoom meeting seeing your own video thumbnail all the time makes you aware of body position, mimicry and how this impacts overall body perception. It changes our social dynamics.


Michael Sacacas first put together his “41 Questions to Ask About Technology” in 2016 out of frustration how many aspects of technology weren’t properly addressed. It was triggered by the following observation from Om Malik:

“I can safely say that we in tech don’t understand the emotional aspect of our work, just as we don’t understand the moral imperative of what we do. It is not that all players are bad; it is just not part of the thinking process the way, say, ‘minimum viable product’ or ‘growth hacking’ are.”

(This will resonate with @ibaldo I guess. See Human Flourishing Design Guide: the science of well-being in the service of technology design)

Recently Michael revisited and updated the list of questions:

Though it is a substantial portion of the work, I will quote the full list of questions below. I recommend checking out more of Michael’s works in his blog The Convivial Society on Substack, or to follow him on Twitter.

41 Questions For The Technologies We Use, and That Use Us

  1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?

  2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?

  3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?

  4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?

  5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?

  6. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?

  7. What practices will the use of this technology cultivate?

  8. What practices will the use of this technology displace?

  9. What will the use of this technology encourage me to notice?

  10. What will the use of this technology encourage me to ignore?

  11. What was required of other human beings so that I might be able to use this technology?

  12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?

  13. What was required of the earth so that I might be able to use this technology?

  14. Does the use of this technology bring me joy? [N.B. This was years before I even heard of Marie Kondo!]

  15. Does the use of this technology arouse anxiety?

  16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?

  17. What feelings does the use of this technology generate in me toward others?

  18. Can I imagine living without this technology? Why, or why not?

  19. How does this technology encourage me to allocate my time?

  20. Could the resources used to acquire and use this technology be better deployed?

  21. Does this technology automate or outsource labor or responsibilities that are morally essential?

  22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?

  23. What desires does the use of this technology dissipate?

  24. What possibilities for action does this technology present? Is it good that these actions are now possible?

  25. What possibilities for action does this technology foreclose? Is it good that these actions are no longer possible?

  26. How does the use of this technology shape my vision of a good life?

  27. What limits does the use of this technology impose upon me?

  28. What limits does my use of this technology impose upon others?

  29. What does my use of this technology require of others who would (or must) interact with me?

  30. What assumptions about the world does the use of this technology tacitly encourage?

  31. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about myself?

  32. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about others? Is it good to have this knowledge?

  33. What are the potential harms to myself, others, or the world that might result from my use of this technology?

  34. Upon what systems, technical or human, does my use of this technology depend? Are these systems just?

  35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?

  36. Does using this technology require me to think more or less?

  37. What would the world be like if everyone used this technology exactly as I use it?

  38. What risks will my use of this technology entail for others? Have they consented?

  39. Can the consequences of my use of this technology be undone? Can I live with those consequences?

  40. Does my use of this technology make it easier to live as if I had no responsibilities toward my neighbor?

  41. Can I be held responsible for the actions which this technology empowers? Would I feel better if I couldn’t?

Can you imagine how new technology would benefit if we even marginally addressed some or all of these questions? Why isn’t this happening? Are we so rushed to just deliver asap, and incentivised to optimize for the bottom line only?

Tech Ethics

A a side-note I want to point to this quote in Michael’s article about Ethics:

This was all before the subsequent boom in “tech ethics,” and, frankly, while my concerns obviously overlap to some degree with the most vocal and popular representatives of that movement, I’ve generally come at the matter from a different place and have expressed my own reservations with the shape more recent tech ethics advocacy has taken.

I also have reservations in how we approach the subject of Ethics in technology nowadays. You might read the article linked in the quote above, but in general the meme in the article summarizes it well:

Meme: One Does Not Simply Add Ethics To Technology

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Thank you for posting Arnold! I just read the article, and it makes me interested to listen to the podcast as well.

I read these questions mostly as a tech consumer/user, in which case they make for an interesting personal evaluation toolkit: should I use the following technology?

Are we so rushed to just deliver asap, and incentivised to optimize for the bottom line only?

I’m afraid so. The short-term incentive to get the bottom line to grow puts constraints on the questions that any company can ask itself.

How for instance in a Zoom meeting seeing your own video thumbnail all the time makes you aware of body position, mimicry and how this impacts overall body perception. It changes our social dynamics.

Right! I’ve been annoyed at the inability to hide your own camera view from yourself in video chatting applications, mostly mobile ones. You don’t constantly hold a mirror in front of yourself in physical conversations either, how weird would that be?

I get the need/need to check how you look for colleagues (and to see whether you are in the screen), but when chatting with family, seeing my own face is mostly a distraction from listening to the other end.