Penn Art of Web S21 Reading Reflections
Please write a comment, reflection, or question about the reading at the appropriate section. (1 to 2 sentences max).

  • In “Run Your Own Social”, I thought the author framed the reasoning behind why we would want to create these smaller social networks along with concerns to keep in mind, while providing many informative resources for a reader who would want to start something like this. What surprised me in the article on NFTs is just the sheer scale of the emissions generated by blockchain technology and the sale of NFTs. I wonder how this compares to the emissions of the traditional art space with art fairs around the world that people travel for and the shipping of artworks overseas. I hope there is innovation, as they mention in the article, that allows us to transition to a more sustainable blockchain system for the long-term because it doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon. 
  • In response to “Run Your Own Social,” one of the main differences I considered between personal social networks and public social networks is the role of algorithms. Algorithms, including issues such as algorithmic oppression, are at the root of many problems with today’s social networks. How can personal social networks create a more inclusive Internet culture?
  • I thought the point that designer Gareth Stangroom made in “NFTs are Shaking Up the Art World. They May be Warming the Planet, Too” was really interesting in that everyone starts to criticize the effects of blockchain technologies when the “little guys” are using it. It seems like the ethical aspects were only becoming extremely controversial with the use of NFTs through art, but not as much when people were/are investing in bitcoin and Ethereum. How can we create a platform or method to both support theses artists/designers without creating harmful environmental consequences? 
  • Last Week, in the podcast, we learned about how “bad data” can lead to “bad algorithms”. I’m wondering if these little networks can be places to collect different kinds of data and produce unique algorithms based on their users. I wonder what results algorithms will select for their pool of data is, for example, only women or only POC or only people from a certain city.
  • I was very struck by the NFT article; it made me think once again about how not everyone gets to benefit from technology and the digital world. In particular, Gareth Stangroom’s quote felt very tragic, because the people who are casually playing around with bitcoin and crypto are obviously not considering/forced to consider the ethical and environmental implications of their actions, but those artists whose livelihoods are being affected are being held accountable. 
  • I resonate a lot with the NFT article because I did a bit of research into NFT lately. It was pretty apparent during my research that the environmental impact of NFT was not really mentioned though there were articles about how cryptocurrency is contributing to global warming. People don’t seem to connect the dots between cryptocurrency and NFT as they are both based in blockchain technology. To Ashley’s point, I think the use of blockchain should be re-evaluated so that we don’t overuse/abuse it and abuse our planet.
  • I think both articles essentially just highlight tradeoffs and externalities. NFTs are good for creatives in many ways relative to the status quo, but they come with environmental costs. Social media platforms reach a lot of people, but cause harm and introduce complexity. I would also note that many times the creators / developers of these platforms / technologies do not know what they are creating at the beginning. They know they are building some new and different but do not know exactly how it will be used.
  • I think the idea of running your own social media platform is so attractive because of all the data privacy issues with current social media sites. It feels like you can finally take yourself back from being a cash cow for big data. I also like the emphasis on community building first and that you can make the design choices to address some of your frustrations with current sites. I recently found out what NFTs are before this and I’ve always just wondered what’s to stop someone from taking a screenshot.

  • The discussion of heteronormative technology brings up terminology that I was not familiar with. I’m curious what other systems in our society use similar gendered language. Is there anything else you can think of that does, and what are its implications?
  • Although technology is so widely used, its creators are not representative of the diversity of its users. It’s interesting to think about how we’re now having to take a step back to review what is lacking in existing technology, which requires developers of representative backgrounds, in order to “fix” it (for lack of a better word). I wonder about how this reflective process can spur the creation of new ideas and solutions in technology, even though it is a backwards looking process on the surface.
  • Although I was always aware that inequality was a big issue in tech and design, this podcast really laid out just how expansive these inequalities are. I was especially surprised to hear the statistic that less than ten percent of employees at Google were black. Although the podcast mentions that we must open the tech field to programmers of marginalized backgrounds and identities, this makes me wonder how this can be achieved. The current structure is already biased against minority groups, so how would large companies like Google be incentivized to promote diversity in their workplaces?
  • This podcast and Black Gooey Universe really makes me reflect on the supposed impartiality of technology. We accept the default formats, our old data, as just numbers or facts and its only when we really examine them do we realize that they reflect the biases of their creators and users. Hearing this also made me feel really nostalgic for my old job as a laser cutter monitor. I spent hours and hours in the makerspace and feeling like I had the privilege of speaking with a machine and knowing the output would always be so precise felt rewarding and powerful. I really think that giving opportunities to more BIPOC and women to be in these sort of spaces can empower them to take control of technological resources into their own hands.
  • I was really interested when Stephanie mentioned this idea of digital colonialism because that was something I had not considered. We understand the basic fundamentals of physical colonialism when it comes to physical space, geography, and location but there’s also this idea of digital colonialism and recreating those different spaces. Whose space is it then if it is created artificially and digitally? And how do we negotiate owning space and colonizing it in the digital realm? It’s a hard fine line between the digital space seems infinite. 
  • I thought this was a helpful reminder that no defaults, including technology or naming conventions, are inherently neutral. They express a point of view that often, unfortunately, humans’ bad instincts or bad behavior. It is important for builders to be aware of this so that the products and futures they build will be more just and equitable.
  • This podcast reminds me of another podcast I listened to a while ago about how FAANG are trying to recruit from historically black university and how this effort is still facing a lot of obstacles. I do wonder if players in the private sectors can create a more leveled playing field comparing to the public sectors? And how could we try to amend the biases that are ingrained into our tech/innovation systems already to make it more fair for the generations to come?
  • The idea of “automating equality” was very interesting to me because it seems like technology is being used to resolve an issue that technology exacerbated. This is not to say that the inequalities and biases being unveiled did not exist prior to technology’s involvement, but the idea that we can update algorithms in a way that can wholly prevent marginalization/gendering feels like putting tape over a leaking pipe. I do think I tend to take a more cynical view though, which is why I enjoyed hearing about the artists and the ways in which they’re trying to reimagine digital tools. 
  • Like many others have said above, I’ve always known about the general inequalities within the tech industry, but this podcast episode brought some specific examples to light. I thought the last part about how Facebook “gave in” and let users input their own gender was interesting, because it made me wonder what was initially stopping them from adding this feature. Was the lack of this inclusion due to a lack of awareness or due to their team’s personal beliefs? I also remember reading an article last year about how despite on the front end they seemed to be making their platform more inclusive, their backend code still categorized these genders into “female” and “male” to determine what the algorithm would do. It makes me wonder how we can help tech understand humans when the we are so complex in terms of race, gender, etc, and how there can be better communication between the industry and its users. 
  • This podcast was very fascinating and really showcased the broader inequalities within the tech industry. I was intrigued by the statistic that most coders were women when computers first came out and they were the reason nasa was able to send people to the moon and were crucial to space exploration. My friends mom was a cs major in the 80’s and I remember she told us that at the time she was in a predominately female major and also when she started working her coworkers were often female and its just crazy to see that as careers become more profitable, white men tend to dominate that area.
  • This reminded me of the movie Hidden Figures which showed the role of women, particularly black women, in sending men to the moon. I wonder what life would be like if women weren’t initially pushed out of computer science and tech. How de we cement women’s spots in up-and-coming-industries?

Week 12 Black Gooey Universe (Brian)

  • This is a really thought-provoking piece and, in a way, it makes me think about the simplistic complacency of our education system. Our society is so deeply rooted in computer technology, yet we are prevented from crafting advanced conversations around topics like this simply because there is no foundation for them and they are not encouraged. How can these ideas be implemented more readily into our knowledge about history’s impact on the current way of doing things?
  • I thought this article was super interesting in connecting Internet users to the people that are responsible for creating elements within the Internet. It highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion within these tech companies due to that lack of connection between tech companies and tech users, and the accessibility aspect as well. I think it’s also interesting to think about how although the white GUI is more present now, many programming GUI (ie. Sublime Text) use black as the default - is this something that will follow the trend of Apple’s interface or is there a specific reason for it?
  • I appreciated how this article encouraged readers to consider their role as users and how that has affected how computers have changed in function and accessibility. My dad (a software architect) would always try to get me to understand terminal/bash in high school, and my teenage self would brush him off, but this reading helps make clear why it’s important to get to know the fundamentals of how a computer operates. I’m not sure I completely understood the connection between race and the color of the interface, but the attention on racial disparities in tech is long overdue.
  • As Erin, I don’t think I fully understand the connection made between the blackness or whiteness of the interface and race. The author writes about how tech entrepreneurship spaces began and were being led predominantly by white men, and it’s clear there are still problems with equity and diversity in many places in this field. It was interesting to read about how interfaces developed into GUIs for people who were non-programmers, and although I perceives that the author is critical of this, I don’t think it could have happened any differently because keeping the earlier interfaces would have posed challenges to their accessibility for many people. 
  • I think this article had a very interesting analysis about the origins of the GUI. I had never really considered the transition of the default background being black to the default background being white prior to reading this article. However, as others have mentioned above, I do not fully understand the article’s connection between the default white screen and the issue of race. The use of colors in this case seems a little literal. Although there are definitely racial disparities that are at play within the tech field and within developers’ stereotypes of the average user, this article remains rather vague and does not specify the link between the color of the screen and the disparities present.
  • One reaction I had to the reading that has not otherwise been addressed, is if people think GUIs are getting more or less rigid, conformist, etc. As I read this article, I kept going back in my mind to the Dark Mode feature on iOS. I remember I had no idea existed until I saw a friends’ phone one day. Do we think functionality like this changes the dynamics this article outlines? How do we more thoughtfully manage the power of defaults?
  • While I didn’t follow all the connections between white GUI and white racial hegemony in Silicon Valley, the part about how the What You See if What You Get struck me. White has become our technological standard in the same what that whiteness is the accepted standard among tech social structures and, under the illusion of “white neutrality”, anything that isn’t part of that default white is by definition in opposition to it.
  • This is a very interesting article and I really appreciate how it goes in depth about who were behind the creation of GUIs. It make me think of the image recognition AIs Google and other tech companies developed and how they are facing criticisms for bias towards a certain group of people (since the AIs were trained using stock photos and there are more stock photos of white people than any other minority groups of people). I am wondering if diversity in the team of creators could be the key in creating a fair product and if there’s any other factors that need to be addressed as well?
  • I think this makes has some interesting parallels to our reading about the eco-consciousness of computers. Black screens are the more ecologically friendly way to have computers work, because black is the absence of a light on. I wonder if dark mode on an iphone or having more website with the default background black be better for the environment even in a small way? 
  • The likening of the move from black to white screen to the anti-blackness of Silicon Valley is not a take I was prepared for. I definitely agree Silicon Valley and high technology have a problem with anti-blackness, as most things in the US do, but I dint really see that particular link until the author made that connection.

Week 11 Exclusive Design (Sabrina)

  • I’m really interested in these principles of exclusive design and am surprised that I have not heard more about them in the past. As we know, it is important that inclusivity movements extend to content consumers as well in order to raise consciousness of the issues and hold producers accountable. Although this writing in particular likely attracts communities of designers or individuals who are interested in design themselves, how can awareness of design accessibility be communicated and spread within the wider public?
  • This project was really interesting to explore and it makes me wonder how many sites on the web that we typically or sometimes use make or don’t make for an effective, easy experience for all users, including people with disabilities. For example, on the page on Everybody’s Paradox, van Gemert writes that most websites don’t use headings properly, which is surprising and reinforces the need for designers to rethink their approach to creating websites. This was a compelling quote that makes me reflect upon how today, everyone can design in a certain sense through a variety of relatively easy tools and how this might impact the accessibility of websites: “And more recently Mike Monteiro wrote a piece in which he argues that design should be a protected profession, just like architecture and law.” 
  • The goal of design is often to communicate an idea, so I enjoyed reading Gemert’s thoughts on how we can improve our ability to do so with a wider audience. In particular, I liked the idea of flipping principles to determine their strength because it seemed to push what was possible with the design’s in the example sites. Since designers are always looking to be more innovative, I think Gemert’s “Exclusive Design Principles” are good for anyone to keep in mind because they put designers outside of their comfort zone (a good thing) and accommodate for more people’s abilities (also a good thing), so I really appreciated the article.
  • I think this thesis was really interesting in its approach to talking about inclusive design. Prior to reading this, although I was aware of the issue of exclusive design, I always had approached the issue with inclusive design as an afterthought (as Vasilis van Gemert criticizes in the thesis). Flipping the script and focusing first on inclusive design not only helped resolve the issue of exclusive design, but it also revealed a slew of new design opportunities that had been previously overlooked due to the tendency to conform to pre-existing web design trends.
  • The page that captured my attention the most and encapsulated a lot of the playful charm of the author  was the crating of invisible animations for Hannes Wallrafen, a blind photographer. Germert challenges the notion that animations are simply not part of a blind users experience, that “oh blind people don’t use this site so it doesn’t really matter” is an acceptable way to create content. It reminds designers that the conventions of animation and visual language, though important, are just a means of conveying an emotion or idea and that same idea can be explained if you are willing to break free of tradition.
  • I find the “add nonsense” principle a bit of a surprise, partially for the word “nonsense” but also for our education on designs based on research. It’s definitely nerve wrecking to flip what researched facts and conventions on their heads when a designer is trying to make the design work. Moreover, Gemert says that “Nonsense can be a useful tool to investigate the unknown”. I find this very intriguing and I will try to explore into the nonsense next time I design.
  • This is so interesting to get a further look into inclusive design (I was in a digital inequalities class last semester that focuses on a lot of these paradigms and problems such as the privilege hazard and how tech designers tend to be skewed towards a specific demographic and including other voices within the design process). Something that was of interest to me last semester was maybe how flawed and biased “design thinking” is and how we can integrate some of these same principles into product design? Should there be a role as the inclusive designer (separate from the designer themselves) that focus purely on accessibility? Or is that in itself a bad idea because it should include the affected voices themselves? 
  • I really liked this thesis / project. A good reminder of the importance of empathy when designing products or experiences - particularly empathy for those that are different than ourselves. I think what is interesting is the author feels the best means of change is by promoting a more critical attitude within the web community versus laws or any other mandates. Certainly an optimistic perspective, hopefully they are right!
  • Sometimes as designers we end up trying to decide what is best based on our experiences and our preference. When designing for any type of person or group of people, they need to be a part of the experience and an integral part of the design process. I think inclusivity is something we have to make the conscious decision to do with all of our designs or our personal biases might become apparent and distract from the purpose of design.
  • I think incorporating inclusive design practices will not only be beneficial to differently ables people but also make designers think of more creative ways to communicate information. The fourth point, “add nonsense”, really stood out to me because it showed that accessibility shouldn’t mean boring design but instead should foster creativity.
  • I thought it was interesting how the author actively worked to fight common conventions. In particular, instead of using individuals with disabilities as the edge case when designing, making them the target user feels like an active effort to refocus on those that have historically been sidelined. 

Week 10 – Secret Life of an Amazon User (Zining)

  • While the environmental impact of code is something we’ve brought up before in class, Moll’s article didn’t really help me understand how websites create a carbon footprint. I would be interested to learn about the connection between opening a website and “emitting” CO2 in more depth. As of right now, I don’t see her point about the user being exploited in terms of energy cost because users are voluntarily using Amazon’s website, but I think with a more nuanced understanding of these code to carbon systems, I would be more able to appreciate her argument.