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Humanity on Rails - Daniel Azuma - RailsConf 2013

Humanity on Rails

Daniel Azuma

  • What is 'living'?

  • RailsBridge: Org to increase diversity in tech

  • Diversity's a big issue

  • How do we attract more minorities?

  • Yahoo recently canned their remote working program

  • What do we make of all of this?

  • Daniel got laid off, went back to school to study theology at Regent

  • Also researched technology, met w/ pastors and engineers

  • Long history of philosophy of technology

    • Tech was tied to art, craftsmanship, and relgious ponderings
    • Over time, it changed
    • Europe secularized, industrial revolution
    • Arts focused on beauty/aesthetics, tech focused on power
    • Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) wrote The Technological Society
      • Technology is all about efficiency
      • Almost Darwinian process of technology self-improving
    • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) wrote The Question Concerning Technology
      • Tech is a way of perceiving the world
      • What do we see when we see nature?
        • Untamed beauty? Or untapped resources?
        • Reality is no longer defined by what it is, but how we can use it
    • Albert Borgmann (1937-) wrote Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life
      • The Device Paradigm
        • A device is a way of perceiving (more cultural than technological)
        • Example: CD Player
          • What is provided by the device: Commodity (easy, convenient, highly accessible music from CD player)
          • What is the thing actually is: Mechanism (inner workings are more concealed)
          • Commodity is convenient, and mechanism is hidden
        • This is encapsulation!
          • Inteface = commodity (.h), implemntation = mechanism (.c)
  • Most of web business is about counting eyeballs

    • We focus on metrics (convenient/available), and the people are ignored (concealed)
  • This is a repeating pattern

  • Now we ask people: "How are you useful?"

  • People become agents of technology

  • We are challenged to challenge nature

  • Daniel hates Twitter

    • It's a step backwards in communication
      • Ignores details, nuances, depth
    • But still forced to use twitter because the community is on Twitter
    • To promote, be available for support, etc, have to be on Twitter
    • Tech is now dictating what Daniel can and cannot do
  • Borgmann: Tech is no longer a choice. Tech is the basis for choices

  • Andrew Feenberg (1943-)

  • Samuel Florman (1925-)

  • Lots of writings!

  • Does technology have value?

  • Does technology have values?

  • Is there a meta-narrative of tech?

  • You can critique the usage of tech, but you can't critique the ethics/personality of tech (source code is neutral)

  • We critique at the ends of tech, but not the means

  • If technology is value-neutral, then the ends justify the means

  • Technology itself now makes a moral statement

  • Tech is not value-neutral in of itself

  • It values convenience, efficiency, power, control

  • It devalues engagement, aesthetic, meaning, commmunity

  • If tech has personlity, that'll affect the way we relate/use tech

  • If tech has culture, that means it might have intrinsic biases, it could priviledge certain groups

  • Not saying tech excludes others

  • Not saying this is just the way it is

  • We want to improve the status quo and diversity

  • If tech has a personality, we have to pay attention to it

  • If there is a bias inherent in what we do as engineers, then we tend to take it for granted.

  • We can't afford to have those biases hidden and unchallenged

  • If us engineers can't figure it out, who can?

  • The good news

    • Rails is a great tech
    • Rails is opinionated
    • Has social values
    • Transparent
    • Rails invites us to create dialogue and engage
    • Open source turns around the Device Paradigm
      • Implementation is open
      • Engage w/ implemntation
      • Success of OSS is dependent on engagement of contributors
  • The Technologist's Calling

    • To seek to understand tech
    • To learn to live wel with tech
    • To teach the worled about tech
  • Getting started w/ Humanity on Rails: http://daniel-azuma.com/railsconf2013

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