First, to introduce a critical vocabulary for using, talking, thinking about and designing with networked technologies and digital media. Students had read Rushkoff, Jaron Lanier, Neil Postman, Sherry Turkle and Danah Boyd and others. They’d heard from Cindy Gallop, OpenBox’s Marquise Stillwell, Deborah Alden, Jen Kilian and Gaïa Orain. They’d watched Her, Asian gaming addicts in recovery, 1950s IBM short films by the Eames. They’d taken a lightning-fast history of Silion Valley-driven innovation over the past 60 years, to see the shift from clinical encounters with giant mainframe computers in refrigerated, secured rooms, to personal intimate encounters with data-of-self, almost invisible screens, wearables, 3d printed objects and wotnot. 2014 is an interesting year to be taking stock of all this.
The second aim of class was to step back from the tech timeline and the hardware fetishism and ask what new questions social innovators might answer if we refocused all the technological capabilities we’d mapped, and all the innovations frameworks we’d pulled from business and social enterprise, so the class project set our sights on topics not usually addressed by the male-dominated engineering industry in Silicon Valley:
So with a group of 22 women and two men in their 20s and 30s, this seemed like an open moment to consider the technologies that aren’t just efficiency vehicles for more productive working – and to look at design interventions and related narratives that already impact their personal lives, and will continue to do so over the next 20 years in predictable and unforeseen ways.
The final crits were guest moderated by designers, thought-leaders from TED, Facebook, Collins, Hyperakt Design, Parsons The New School, BMW DesignWorks and elsewhere, and fellow students from SVA Products of Design and Interaction Design.
Addressing various topics, students:
– Reconceived sex ed for preteen boys, crafting a kit of honest Q&As for big brothers to share real facts
– Confirmed in a survey that interest in fertility spikes for women between 20-30 but flatlines for same-age men, and proposed ways to close the knowledge gap
– Reframed family planning as a responsibility men could be proud of
– Asked: What if involuntarily childless women had greater visibility, more support?
– Explored more empathic offices 4 pregnant professionals+their coworkers
– Planned a truck tour offering young women access to info and frank talk about their own their reproductive health
– Developed a deck of cards to help New York’s social workers to support young women vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking
The students (from over 10 countries) focused on the experiences of two broad cohorts: Young men and young women, and midlife men and women in (let’s assume the metropolitan) US. Each project below links to a full summary of the work.
Two projects investigated a similar theme, the first laying the research foundation for others’ work, asking,
How can new ways to access complete information re-frame the way women make choices about reproductive health throughout their whole reproductive lives?
Liz Abernathy, Laura Kadamus, Rhea Rakshit, Liora Yuklea
What does first-hand research with both liberal and conservative young women in their 20s and 30s reveal about what’s missing from current “family planning” narratives?
Kate Nicholson, Xintong Liu, Rachel Dixon
What and where would spark and support young women’s informed conversations about their sexual and reproductive health to empower them as they make short- and long-term decisions?
The next two projects focused on breaking taboos to help teenaged boys and girls through difficult conversations with high stakes:
The Bro Code
Meryl Natow, Renzo Perez-Acosta, Haya Shaath
If, according to Cindy Gallop, kids as young as 6 have access to online pornography, yet schools are forbidden by law from providing personal guidance as part of sex education, what other channels are available for positive, accurate communication to and with young boys about sex before they themselves are sexually active?
Say No More
Michelle Kwon, Meghan Lazier, Robin Newman
How can game-play make social workers more aware of sex trafficking as a distinct domestic issue for vulnerable teenaged girls within their care? With new tools, how might social workers facilitate meaningful, effective preventive dialogs with those most at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking?
The final three tackled three kinds of social stigmas, around pregnancy at work, male infertility, childlessness by circumstance:
Andrea Nunez, Cova Abril Paredes, Jenny Emmons, Yuka Uogishi
How might changes in corporate office environments help employees who are expectant mothers maintain their professionalism and dignity at work (without alienating their coworkers)?
Juno Lee, Akshata Malhotra, Pragya Mishra, Mafé Perez
What if men were encouraged to consider their capacity for fatherhood as insistently as women are about becoming mothers? How might that be achieved effectively with humor and within a holistic narrative about men’s general wellbeing? And what does that imply for reframing public attitudes towards and redesigning social policy for parenting or living well overall?
Anna Braga, Gina Kim, Swar Raisinghani
Under what conditions would involuntarily childless women feel less isolated, more supported, better connected to each other and, if desired, happily involved in the lives of the children of others?
– Instead of designing another iphone app, what scope is there to redesign everyday experiences of reproductive technologies, birth control, online adult content, other selfware?
– What changes will these inform in the next 20 years?
– How might (behaviors, habits, attitudes, policies, built environments, product design) catch up with the various technological advances?
– If you don’t shape it, who will?
– If disruptive innovation is left only to the VC-supported lads, what won’t ever get properly designed?
– Where will you, as (almost all female) social innovators, make a positive impact elsewhere?
– What if you didn’t Lean In but went off and did something else even more worthwhile?
– Where else might you direct your energies and skills as a social innovator, enabled by emerging technology?
Some astonishing insights
Students’ research revealed that
– Often quoted data points about women’s reproductive age are based on 300 year-old statistics.
– It’s against the law for phys ed teachers to give students personal guidance in sex ed classes.
– 1 in 7 will have difficulties related to infertility yet navigating your reproductive life is not on school curricula.
– Men have little access to information about their own fertility
– Pregnancy is considered a “disability” in the fine print of many corporate work environments.
– Many social workers are unaware of sex trafficking as a domestic issue yet it is an industry that generates $9bn annually in the US alone.
In conclusion, both the students and guest critics agreed, our own bodies are often contested, already mediated physical spaces. Offline interaction remains the richest form of human relations, and from the most optimistic stance, technology (in its various forms) is here to support and enhance, not diminish or corrupt, that. As our lives become increasingly networked and screen-mediated, we as social innovators need to become ever more finely attuned to and mindful of the new possibilities – productive and destructive – that technology affords. That requires social innovators to be more visible, more adept definers and creators of new tools and new tech-mediated experiences.