Reimagining everyday technologies in light of COVID-19

September 24, 2020

In his paper, Life Less Normal, published in the July-August 2020 special edition of the Association of Computing Machinery's journal, Interactions, City, University of London's Reader in Human Computer Interaction, Dr Alex Taylor invites an examination of life as normal, and asks whether it is really something we want to return to, or indeed should return to.

The most recent edition of Interactions, co-edited by Dr Taylor, is dedicated to exploring the ways in which critical research and emerging practices in Human Computer Interaction and Design (HCID) are being applied to address societal challenges presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

With his academic concern for the ways technology is inextricably bound up with social life, he asks how technology might have played into discriminatory and exploitative structures in society.

Dr Taylor poses the question:

What are we to think of the seemingly benign call to work remotely (and the technologies designed to enable this) when we consider the often forgotten workforce that has no choice but to be at work, to touch and be touched by others? In the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, the urge has been to think about a time before lockdown and before what has felt like a never-ending series of curtailments to ordinary life. The urge has been to wish for a return to a life as normal. However, something the uncertainties of the pandemic have forced us to consider is what is this normal? What have we taken for granted and what, exactly, is entailed in the versions of life we want back?

Dr Taylor calls on the industries and practitioners who build technologies, and the scholars who study it, to imagine different futures, ones that are responsive to and responsible for the full diversity of lives lived, and that ensure many more actors are given a place at the table where what matters and who counts are decided:

"Finding ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by supporting, for example, contact tracing, symptom tracking, and immunity certification are undoubtedly important goals. The longer-term challenge for those of us invested in design and technology's proliferation must be, however, to look beyond these immediate fixes. We need to be asking what multi-scalar modes and practices might be reimagined to be responsive to and responsible for the seemingly separate technoscientific realms of managing human pandemics and caring for our sociotechnical and multispecies relations. We need to be imagining worlds that resist singular or monolithic ways of valuing life, that question the logics of extraction and transaction, and that make possible a multiplicity of ways of living together."

City University London

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