Lincoln Center Visiting Scholar Brings Critical Design and Responsible Innovation to ASU

February 23, 2022

Professor Marcel O’Gorman empowers people to create movement and take to the streets using critical design practices, and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics saved you a front row seat.

The center is honored to host O’Gormanfounding director of the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo, for a three-week visit to Arizona State University. During his visit, O’Gorman leads a series of professional workshops titled “Popular Technical Workshop” for staff, faculty, and students, as well as a public lecture titled “Responsible Innovation and Critical Design” on teachings and the practices of critical design techniques. Through these events, his goal is to get people thinking about the impact of technology on humans, to examine our role in that impact, and to ask who is considered human in the process.

Professor Marcel O’Gorman visiting Arizona State University.
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O’Gorman founded the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, to meet the need he saw for a critical, technology-reflective media lab. Instead of asking, “What cool thing can we do with technology?” his lab is more interested in the question: “What does technology do to us?”

“It’s more than just thinking about technology, it’s also a practice of thinking about creating new technologies,” O’Gorman said. “The motto of the lab is ‘technology studies technology’, so instead of just writing about and thinking about technology impacts, you’re actually creating technology and getting your hands dirty through building small hardware, interactive media and software design, and various forms of installation and public art interventions.

To contribute to this mission, O’Gorman organizes “Atelier Technique Populaire” workshops, inspired and titled after the historical Popular Workshop 1968 Paris, France protest group. This group was made up of students, unions, artists and other workers who came together to create massive protests marked by provocative posters that communicated their ideas for institutional change.

“Students kept the art school busy making these posters, but they didn’t make them on their own. They brought in artists, people from the manufacturing industry and said, “What are your concerns? then they had a democratic process to decide what slogans would go on those posters,” O’Gorman explained. “The idea behind our workshop is to empower people to organize their feelings about technology and toxic tech culture, and then embody those feelings in a poetic way that can be made visible to other people. This can be used as a way to take techno-criticism to the streets, bringing visibility to these issues through the creation of physical artifacts.

Professor Marcel O'Gorman sitting in front of a whiteboard with a brainstorm written on it.

Professor Marcel O’Gorman leads his workshop “Atelier Technique Populaire” on February 18th.

Along the same lines, O’Gorman is a Fellow of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics’ Human Technology Design Studios. These design studios are a series of events with cohorts of international professors and professionals reflecting together on critical questions, covering how technology has changed our relationship to home, work and our bodies. Cohorts then co-create questions and ideas to improve their relationship to technology, and ultimately create a future of human flourishing.

“I really like what they’re doing with these workshops and I really like the idea of ​​bringing people together to have these discussions,” O’Gorman said. “I met Elizabeth Langland and Gaymon Bennet from Lincoln Center because their work is ideologically aligned with what I’m trying to do at Critical Media Lab, and that’s what I want to see more of at our university.

“Just like at Lincoln Center, I’m interested in taking these studios a step further. Due to the pandemic, most of the events had to be online, but I was interested in bringing people together in the same room (and Zoom) and to physically create something together in the studios of Atelier Technique Populaire. That’s what really motivated me to collaborate with Elizabeth and Gaymon, and I just felt a very strong connection based on values with the people at Lincoln Center and with what Lincoln Center is trying to do.

An important theme in O’Gorman’s work is “technology for good”, which is the title of a declaration he has helped write to motivate companies to think more about the impact of their products on people in society.

“However, it’s time to move beyond declarations and manifestos and start actually acting on principles,” O’Gorman said. “The tech community needs practices to think more carefully about the products they create. Who might you exclude from your customer base, for example? What labor practices feed into your supply chain? Who do you hire to make those products? “We have issues with facial recognition, for example, and algorithmic bias due to a lack of diversity and inclusion in technology. Making critical thinking an essential part of the technology creation process can help avoid these injustices.

“When we talk about human technology, who is the human we are talking about? Who becomes human and who decides who is human? A lot of it is about thinking about who we are, our agenda, and how we can be more inclusive. It is not enough to embed ethics in a tech company, we must recognize that the problems of big tech are directly linked to long-standing social inequalities. We still have a lot to learn from the civil rights movement and from the people who are still protesting and organizing. Let’s hope that workshops like the Atelier Technique Populaire, the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics the team and other organizations can make these issues visible and create opportunities for solidarity and community development that will lead to a better future.

Future event

At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, O’Gorman will host a public lecture entitled “Responsible Innovation and Critical Design” in Ross-Blakley Hall, Room 196, on ASU’s Tempe campus and on Zoom. Based on workshops that O’Gorman runs for engineering students at the University of Waterloo, this talk will highlight key issues that technology developers and those impacted by tech culture should think about when it comes to of their work and how it affects people around the world.

The conference will provide suggestions on how to embed critical design into the foundation of your work so that you can create solutions without negatively impacting communities, both at home and around the world. O’Gorman will dive into the benefits of critical design, how it can give you breathing room to think about your innovation practices, and ultimately improve your work.

Register for the event.

Abdul J. Gaspar