You Know What We Do

I was re-reading Langdon Winner’s “The Whale and the Reactor” yesterday, and was struck by a bolt of realization. I highly respect Winner’s work, which he describes as criticism, and consider it a model for my efforts. Winner’s most trenchant insight s that we live in an artificial reality, one who’s features are described by technological artifacts. We are surrounded by a sea of glittering technological objects, and their functions and parameters describe our life far more than the so-called natural world. As human-manufactured objects, these artifacts are designed. Conscious effort went into their making. And so when we describe technology, when we criticize technology, we are criticizing design. I am a design critic. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go demonstrate my superior taste in blinkenlights.


  1. I had a discussion similar to this with someone not too long ago. The caveat is that ( at least currently ) natural processes constrain the designed reality. The thought is "we are living entirely within the constructs of our own imagination" is not.. exactly true, when material constraints, defects, and decay processes creep in. I don't know ... maybe some people exist entirely within designed reality, but I try to pull out insight from [first level] [essential] [natural] reality whenever possible. Furthermore, the emergent properties of society and our combined design efforts follow [unarticulated] rules and patterns that we do not understand. Even if people understood everything, we still would not understand people. I suppose, if we ever do understand people, its on to the next level of complexity or some such transhumanist speculation.

  2. Your second caveat is very much true (not to discount the fact that we can't change everything about the natural world, but within the laws of nature, we can do a lot.) While individual components may be designed, the interactions of the whole are entirely unpredictable.

    But yet, we can still criticize unthinking accretions of objects, and ask for, nay demand, a better designed world.