We need a new ergonomics and something like EPA/FDA for tech and digital spaces


#1

I wonder if we could approach humane tech the way we’ve approached workplace ergonomics. Inhumane tech distress the mind and social relationships in ways similar to how poorly designed chairs and other physical objects distress and injure the body. We’ve done fairly well identifying and improving our physical workspaces, and we clearly have work to do with how tech and poorly designed digital spaces impact our mental and social wellbeing. Digital ergonomics?

Another way to look at this is to view inhumane tech as polluting our mental and social spaces. Many early versions of technologies are highly polluting and tend to be “cleaned up” as the dangers of pollutants are recognized and design improvements developed and implemented. We can look at how factories in the earl 20th century that were quite dirty and dangerous to work in and compare them with cultures of safety in todays’ factories, or how we no longer use leaded gasoline since realizing how toxic it is. I’m optimistic that we can clean up inhumane tech and replace it with humane tech because we’ve done the same thing with other technologies. We need to have better conversations about pollution and safety, and how we can have design and regulations that serve human values and human health instead of prioritizing the growth and profit of tech companies. Could we benefit from something like an EPA/FDA for tech?


#2

Yes, this is a good idea @Dan_Rubin,

I would like to point to an existing idea, to see how it fits what you have in mind. Your idea focuses on the health and wellbeing sector specifically and on ‘digital ergonomomics’ i.e. the solution-side of the equation. That is also the goal of this community: to be optimistic and solution-oriented.

The other existing idea broadens your concept for the entire field of Humane Technology and talks in terms of ‘Harms of Technology’ and their Solutions. I got it when giving feedback (here and here) on the ‘Ledger or Harms’ (created by CHT), which only highlights negative aspects of technology in a pamphlet format.

It involves starting a project, called HOTFIX, or Harms of Technology Fixes that contains a crowdsourced, structured library of ‘harm mitigation patterns’ (similar to Design Patterns). More info is in this Github issue:

The audience of this library is primarily professionals in the respective fields that are related to the harms (though the broader public may find it useful too).


#3

I agree @Dan_Rubin, and I think this is probably the best possible place to develop a code of conduct (building on the work of @aschrijver and others), and I expect the CHT is well placed to be the standard bearer.

When it comes to lobbying for a national/international standards body, I feel that in the UK at least, it’d only get any political traction after somebody successfully sues for injury (from which most health and safety regulation is born). I’m by no means up on my legal precedents, but not sure one has been set yet.
So I think we’re probably at the stage where we can do our bit to develop the code and build public awareness. Regulation may follow (and the pros and cons of regulation would of course be another debate).
Good research on child mental health and persuasive software here… ‘Disrupted Childhood’. https://5rightsfoundation.com/resources.html (with quotes from T Harris).


#4

Thank you Arnold, and thank you for orienting me to the resources and wisdom of this community. I’ve been studying and thinking about these issues on my own for a while, so its inspiring to become part of a community of people working on these issues. Thank you for the good work you do.


#5

Thank you Dave. Huh, I wonder what it would look like if one sued for injury caused by distressing /addictive/divisive tech. Describing potential arguments and possible legal precedents would be a useful thought exercise at the very least. Also, should FB come with a warming label like cigarettes do, or should mental health professionals make public statements and advise patients about the dangers of social media the way we talk about smoking or drinking alcohol? Thank you for the work you are doing on this issue, and its good to join the team!