UPenn Art of Web F20 Reading Reflections
Please write a comment, reflection, or question about the reading at the appropriate section. (1 to 2 sentences max).

The idea of energy exploitation is a concept I had never truly heard about before this article and piece. It is really interesting to me how the breakdown of “work” is done when trying to create an interesting, customized, and incredibly personalized experience for a user while taking resources in the background to run these commands. In theory, efficiency wise and through a business standpoint, I think this makes sense to me — it might be cheaper to run shorter commands for each user on their own device (and may be faster) than running such commands on the backend server. However, I think this sort of accumulated energy data is an interesting point that we should be tracking or at least brought at the forefront of our minds — especially for example, on an application like Zoom, perhaps, which is extremely taxing on devices.

I really like Moll’s quote, “To put it bluntly, the user is not just exploited by means of their free labor, but is also forced to assume the energy costs of such exploitation.” As a designer at Amazon, or really at any tech giant, I wonder how one would be able to balance between designing a seamless user experience and designing to monetize/exploit the user. I also really appreciated the awareness Moll built within myself each time I clicked on her project. I reminds me that these aren’t stand alone interfaces we’re dealing with here. These are long chains of interactions that have greater implications beyond a user checking something out of his/her Amazon cart. 

I think this was a really interesting read because energy exploitation was not an idea that I’ve really thought much about when using interfaces and websites. Also, the new world of a data economy, the collection of data from users to be sold and marketed from, is an interesting change in capitalism as a force. Data collection (such as the intense thousands of lines of code Amazon uses) is a free source of labor where the user is being exploited and profited from, oftentimes without their knowledge. This article pointed out something that I was not knowledgeable about, and it goes to show the numerous amount of behind the scenes digital interactions that large companies have with consumers, and the lack of transparency at that. 

I think this is a really interest project because it shows just how much big corporations are affecting society and our environment, and how they are recruiting us into their agenda without us knowing it. I know there is a push against using Amazon for shipping because of worker conditions and other issues, but I wonder if people are willing to give up the convenience of it, especially since there is an Amazon locker right on our campus. Is this data collection a fair trade for the ease of something like one-day shipping? I myself have thought about it a lot, but then find myself using the one-day shipping feature when I need last minute art materials for a project or something because it is so useful and convenient. 

This project was certainly interesting - as a developer I’ve not really thought about the environmental impact of my code in terms of the energy cost to run and transmit it. The sheer amount of code behind each of the pages was a bit overwhelming - I gave up trying to reach the end. I think project points to the bigger issue of energy consumption of big tech and “the cloud” which is quite substantial. In fact, according to a Yale study (https://e360.yale.edu/features/energy-hogs-can-huge-data-centers-be-made-more-efficient) data centers emit as much CO2 as the airline industry. I think it’s important to consider energy consumption when creating complex software deployed on a massive scale, but most of the focus in development is on computational efficiency, which may or may not translate to energy efficiency. Fancy but energy inefficient technology such as Bitcoin mining, which uses as much energy per year as Switzerland, shows that such energy use often isn’t factored into the design of software and web systems. To be fair to Amazon and Bezo$, Amazon claims to be moving towards net carbon-zero emissions, creating a “climate pledge” to be net carbon zero by 2040. However, while it does appear that Amazon is working towards carbon neutrality for its data centers (https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/environment/the-cloud?energyType=true), its unclear whether or they are including the carbon costs of executing massive amounts of client side Javascript code in users browsers from their websites. Given that I did not find any mention of that, I think its likely it does not - but if a company claims they are going “net zero” in terms of emissions, I think such “external” energy use needs to be factored in as well. It is easy for web developers to view client side computations as “free” because they do not use up computational resources on the server backend but I do not think developers should view them that way.

I think human’s interaction with internet is extremely superficially limited. Interface is where the main interaction happens, and as a normal user, we are unaware of anything happening outside of the visual and interactive elements being selectively presented to us. Our actions, of course, are also being exposed and recorded as our interactions with those coded pages increase. This raise a question of giving up unintended behavioral information, where users were exposed to a designed mechanism that monitors their behavior in order to extract more personal information. This kind of personal information may not even be salient to the users themselves, yet captured by the companies who provide user experience. I wonder if that counts as a kind of privacy violation, a kind of privacy that is not aware by the user; a deeper level of behavioral pattern that is only known to the companies, as if every user are involuntarily signed up to a big behavioral experiment unaware. 

I have only recently been thinking very much about the impact of all the digital data we have, especially since many things are transitioning to the cloud and the pandemic pushed many things online. For a separate class, I did a project looking into the carbon emissions of sending an email or communicating digitally, which felt similar to this in terms of analyzing the hidden impacts of our internet activity. I think using the internet feels really surface-level, quick, and harmless, but we don’t think about the physical space and electricity required to interact with that data, and this project brings that to light and materializes it in a way, which is importnat.

^ Here’s a bit of irony if anyone is up for it. 

I think this project is really interesting because it sheds light upon something we normally overlook. I also appreciate how Moll’s website makes visitors aware of data and energy consumption by giving them the option to load images only if they choose to. Before reading this, I’ve never really thought of or heard of energy exploitation in this context. Since tech giants have no incentive to disclose stuff like this, there is really no way for the average person to find out about this. I think these issues are definitely problematic, but it is hard to set regulations if people have no idea this is even happening.

Projects like this always bring to light just how much the average person does not realize about their interactions online and makes me wish that there was more education given about these subjects. 

Week 15 – Community and Accessibility Online (Michelle)

The circumstances in which we have all been confined to due to the pandemic have opened up opportunities for positive changes. I found the idea of COVID opening up new ways of relating to others and offering what you have really hopeful and encouraging. Out of all the things we have harnessed from experiencing a need to face and overcome a universal challenge, community and compassion are amongst the most important. Will companies be able to improve and maintain a level of generosity needed to support certain individuals, even after the pandemic? 

The pandemic has definitely shed light upon the importance of having communities and networks. In addition to inclusiveness and accessibility, I think we should also pay attention to what type of information is being circulated in groups and communities. In the beginning of the pandemic, I received a lot of texts and articles from my friends and family that made the situation sound a lot more terrifying than it actually was, which made me much more scared and worried than I had to be in reality. Studies have shown that negative emotions are powerful and contagious and can cause a lot of unnecessary fear and concern. Therefore it is important to pay attention to what we spread in our communities. I think we should all aim to spread positivity and support, and limit the circulation of fear and anger in times like this.

I think the most interesting part of this was when Choi was talking about the struggle being interdependence, transparency, and violation of privacy in regards to the way the Korean government are handling contact tracing and notifying people. When in a global pandemic that has affected millions of people, how does one mediate between making sure other are safe but also keeping your own health details private? Should people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been exposed it be required to reveal that information and how safe/viable is it to deliver that information over something like a smartphone?

I really appreciated this reading and its importance/relevance to the current events and a quote that stuck out to me in particular, “Alice reminds us all that people with disabilities, because of our resilience, our ability to take care of each other when the system won't, and to problem solve. It means that in a time like this, we're more valuable than ever.” I hope that we continue to do more in our communities to seek out these voices and to learn the value of their experiences because I feel like it is those who are regularly looked over that have the most knowledge to bring to the table in these difficult and quite complicated situations. 

I really liked Taeyoon Choi’s comment about the relationship between user and technology moving forward. He mentioned he wants to see humans not “build a dependency” on technology but rather have “a better relationship where we have more agency” — saying this in the context of data privacy. Is there ever an argument that a “better relationship” means less agency? When and why?

One of the more interesting topics covered was the relationship between privacy and the general good or safety of a community. This topic has always had a cloud of debate around it, and I think it’s peculiar to think about which cultures or nations have what we deem more “privacy” protections over the welfares of other citizens. Choi mentions that in South Korea if the neighbors tested positive, you could get a text message about their whereabouts the past 24 hours, which is obviously a privacy concern, but it would ultimately be beneficial to stop others or at least identify who the neighbors would’ve been in contact with to prevent more sickness and death. It’s definitely something to think about, especially in America where many value their privacy even if it is at the expense of others’ lives. (TSA, NSA).

^^ whenever people bring up this privacy debate, I think of Ben Franklin’s quote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety..” I’m of the general belief that people should be given recommendation and access to information, but allowed to live and conduct themselves as they wish. Ive been reading a lot of GRRM and his writing is all about the dynamics of power, even if its in a fictional landscape. Generally, I think its very easy for people to tell others what to do. We would all probably fall into this trap if given the chance/opportunity/power. As this related to those with disabilities, I feel like individuals with disabilities become more obvious victims during times of distress. I think its the responsibility of individuals within a community to support and help them in times of need. Im not sure how a bureaucracy can help them as efficiently as each individual with disability has unique abilities and constraints. 

I though it was interesting to hear about how COVID 19 and the resulting shift of our lives into virtual spaces have affected those with disabilities. I don’t think Zoom has much in the way of accessibility features but I could easily see improvements that could be done. For example, perhaps using speech recognition Zoom could to generate sign language captions for what is being said, or there could be a way to add alt text to what someone intends to show via a screen share.  I wonder if any improvements like this have been made by any video conference software since the pandemic started.

Week 14 – Exclusive Design (Rachel)

The header changing color kind of freaked me out because it did it so slowly that I thought I was imagining it. Anyway, I do think it is important to design as inclusively as possible. However, I also think that it is impossible to design something that operates perfectly for everyone. Perhaps having alternative templates that people can toggle on and off could be a possible solution? I do agree including non-designers and people with disabilities is a step forward in the right direction. 

I found the paradox of an inclusive web highlighted in the reading really interesting. I’ve heard about inclusive design by reading different blog posts and in classes I have taken in the past, but never thought about how these principles could be improved/refined especially by flipping them into “exclusive design principles.” This thesis has pushed me to think about how we can expand our understanding of what inclusive design means by focusing on certain edge cases like the Margin keyboard example. It has also made me question what the standards and conventions of design would look like if what is thought of as an edge case currently was built in from the very start. 

When I read the article, I was thinking about how we can create better designs for older generations. Although they are not necessarily people with disabilities, older people are usually not the intended audience for many websites since they don’t “use their computers in a similar way as designers do.” I think the unfamiliarity with icons, navigation, and other design principles can really discourage and push old people away from digital platforms. Personally, I believe it is important to keep these issues in mind as designers so everyone has the opportunity of participating and accessing information online.