On Design and the Future of Tech

Campus San Joaquín
Campus San Joaquín

Last week marked one month of my being here in Santiago! I’m happy and healthy and I’m looking forward to the next two before my Christmas break. I will be coming home to spend time in the states a little before Christmas, and will be returning to Chile after the New Year to spend my last 10 weeks on co-op.

I was invited to attend a Talk, Workshop, and Lunch with a professor by the name of Dr. Joe Tranquillo last Thursday, October 16th. Joe is a professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Bucknell University, focuses on Biomed design, and was the second hire at the inception of the department. I was excited to hear him speak, as his ideals as far as engineering design go are aligned well with mine. I am a big proponent of human-centered design, and designing for the user: something could function flawlessly, but if the user can’t understand it, they won’t use it. It’s a waste. I have declared a minor in Product Design (Industrial Design) and I hope that my experience with the PROD department will supplement my engineering degree to give me a greater perspective. I hope it allows me to bring together designers and engineers for more efficient, effective, and user-friendly technology. Through the program he developed at Bucknell, Joe works to instill a similar mindset in his Biomed students as well. You can read more about Joe here.

The theme of the day being Staying Human, Joe kicked off our time together by speaking about the deep connections we’ve forged with technology, and how to navigate the ever-changing tech landscape. We are constantly bombarded with technology – good and bad – and the lines are beginning to blur between our devices and ourselves. This could be good, and it could be bad. It’s still playing out. We followed up the talk with a workshop that explored the idea of a “post-human”. We shared where we see room for improvement, as well as what about humanity we believe should remain sacred.

Listening to presentations at the workshop

If you’re interested in hearing Joe speak, you can watch a recorded version of a similar talk. And it’s in English, so no worries!

Oftentimes, we get bogged down in all of the tech we have access to. You have people who swing to the extremes: all the best, newest, fastest, etc. vs. the people who refuse to own even a basic cell phone. Who is the purist? Who’s in the right? Who’s in the wrong? Is there validity in automating our entire aspects of our lives or is it slowing killing our humanity? Wherever you stand on the issue, it’s one that we face frequently.

Joe’s talk was not one of pessimism or warning, but of hope. No one knows where our current state will take us, but regardless of where we came from, or where we’re headed, we’re living right now. His suggestion? Utilize the tech we have to push out into world the tasks we can automate, to leave time for the things that make us feel whole and human.

There’s promise.

Someone who I think does this incredibly well is someone very close to me. (You know who you are, TH. 🙂 ) I’m consistently impressed with how you’re always looking for ways to be more efficient and to be a better version of yourself. Letting your phone track your mileage and splits when you run to motivate you to beat your PR, having an app to watch your charging history to extend the battery life of your phone, using f.lux to adjust your computer screen to be softer at night, and using YouTube to figure out how to do something new. In turn, you have more time to do the things you want to do, to learn more, and to do it all wholeheartedly and to the best of your ability. I think that a lot of people would benefit from using their resources as well as you do yours!

Talented designers design for the user: to improve the user’s life in one way or another. This can be in terms of a physical thing, a more intuitive process, a better layout. Design research is critical. JF, you’ve got a big job ahead of you but I know you’re more than ready! Users could also benefit from thinking like designers: make it work for you, but don’t let it run your life. We talked about accelerators of technological advancement, the interdependency of biology, business, technology, and social activity, and the various movements offering a more simple approach to humanity: the Maker Movement, a return to homegrown and farm-to-table food, an increased consciousness of the importance of physical activity.

Joe’s suggestion, as he continues to develop his theory, is that technology can be used to reveal humanity. Maybe, when portions of our lives are automated, we can spend our extra time not obsessively checking Instagram and having some serious FOMO (Fear of missing out… Personally, I really like these #FOMOF commercials), but taking the opportunity to head out for a run with a friend, while our laundry takes care of itself at home. In essence, to strip away the tasks that mentally drain us to reveal and embrace our humanity.

To everyone at Drexel, kick some butt in Week 5! You’re almost halfway through the term, which means nearly a quarter of the way to your next co-op. Good work, and good luck in A-round!


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