Why putting on the brakes is not enough

Pittsburgh Public.jpeg

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, knows his platform allows for bad craziness to spread like cancer, but fuck it! He’s still getting rich. Who cares if his platform amplified the worst voices in this country, and did so at the shared expense of everyone else? Right? Anyone who still works for Twitter should seriously reconsider what they are doing with their lives. Imagine getting paid to provide Nazis a global megaphone. How do you sleep at night, @Jack?

Thoughts on Ruined by Design, by Mike Monteiro:

I’ve finished reading Mike Monteiro’s book, Ruined By Design, and his message is clear: “as designers, we need to think of ourselves as gatekeepers.” This means we must refuse to put harmful designs (in any form) into the world. He uses the analogy of the Hippocratic Oath, and a doctor’s pledge to “first, do no harm,” and argues for designers to adopt a code of ethics.

I can hardly disagree with the notion that designers, like many other professions, ought to operate under a set of values. But is this enough? No. It is not enough to *not* do unethical design. It’s a good start, but it is not enough. For every harmful act, for every data breach, for every easily preventable hack, for every racist and hateful Tweet, for every man-made environmental catastrophe, and for every preventable tragedy brought upon us in the name of “innovative technology” and “disruption,” there is another mile we all travel on this dark highway. Refusing to do something harmful is a neutral act, and ought to be perceived as part of a neutral position. If you are someone who remains “neutral” on climate change, staggering wealth inequality, or the very real threats of fascism and white nationalism, then you’re not really part of the solution - you’re just a speed bump.

We need to reverse this, and Mike Monteiro is passionately calling for us to start by putting on the brakes. It’s not enough, but it is an essential first step. What we desperately need is positive change. We are going down this road at the speed of internal, infernal combustion. We are going faster than hot chrome and sweaty sex. Running in the red.

Almost everyone (aside from a handful of oligarchs and their Fox News sycophants) agrees that we should (at the very least) slow down. And if you suggest we stop, do you know how you will be labeled? You will be called a “far-left radical.” As if wanting every hard working family in this country to live with some basic level of dignity is a communist plot! As if wanting Twitter and the rest of Silicon Valley to actually be held responsible for what they put out into the world is “too liberal” or “too PC.” Well, call me liberal, but I cannot see the value in letting racist assholes have a platform to make terroristic threats against hospitals. Seriously: Fuck you, Jack Dorsey.

Why are these matters controversial at all? Maybe it is because the only thing more grotesque than this horrify status quo is: ourselves. We have been ignoring hard truths for such a long time that we often fail to see how far off we have wandered. It’s after midnight. The road is dark. The engine is running in the red. Why? From wealth inequality, to endless wars, to climate change, we live in a world where crisis is the status quo. Why?


What the author correctly identified is that this is because it is designed that way. We can’t fix this by simply refusing to go further down this road; we need to actively work against the designs that lead to ruin. We need to take the wheel. And if we crash, we need to pile up the debris and preserve only that which functions as a warning sign: to tell future generations not to go down that same path ever again. I’ll let Mike have the last word on this.

If we want positive search results, we should do positive things. If we want to reassure the users of our products that they can trust us, we should do positive things. There’s a reason I wrote these last three chapters in this order. Community breeds standards; standards breed accountability; accountability breeds trust; licensure validates that trust. It’s a journey. It may be a long journey, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking.

Do positive things.

Monteiro, Mike. Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It (p. 206). Mule Books.