Jessica Rajko: Hello every­body. Thank you for being here. My name is Jessica Rajko, and I am a dancer and a design­er. I coex­ist across many spaces at ASU, includ­ing the School of Film, Dance, and Theater, the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering, and the Human Security Collaboratory, which I codi­rect with two amaz­ing women, Dr. Jacqui Wernimont and Dr. Marisa Duarte. With them, I con­duct research that explores our phys­i­cal inter­ac­tions with tech­nol­o­gy, and explores how that affects our every­day or gen­er­al ways of being in the world. 

To explain a lit­tle bit why I’m inter­est­ed in this area of research I want to start by telling you a sto­ry about Google Glass. So Google Glass came to the mar­ket with great hype in 2015, but as you might remem­ber it failed to ful­ly take off. Google expressed sur­prise when peo­ple began con­nect­ing its fail­ure to sur­veil­lance con­cerns, cit­ing that these fears could­n’t real­ly be about the device’s onboard cam­era because there are many cam­eras in pub­lic and pri­vate spaces, and this is only one. 

Now, logically…Google’s right, yeah? If we’re just look­ing at the cam­eras and we’re just look­ing at this from a design per­spec­tive, then this does­n’t make ratio­nal sense. But let me re-set the stage from the per­spec­tive of a socially-conscious move­ment prac­ti­tion­er. The voyeuris­tic nature of this cam­era is not just about the cam­era itself but the way in which it is worn. It is a publicly-recognizable cam­era, per­ma­nent­ly fac­ing out­ward, on a mov­ing body. It is at eye lev­el and it roves and seeks with its wear­er, stop­ping to stare direct­ly into your eyes dur­ing a conversation. 

If you look at a Google Glass wear­er you do not see two eyes but you see three. And that third eye is unblink­ing, and it could be record­ing every­thing. It feels alive because it is con­nect­ed to a liv­ing being. It can­not recede into the back­ground. It can­not be put away. It…just…watch­es.

Google Glass rubbed up against a world that was felt most­ly by those who are prox­i­mate to Google Glass wear­ers, hence the emer­gence of the deroga­to­ry name glass­hole.” These neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments are also like­ly a resur­fac­ing of exist­ing neg­a­tive feel­ings towards video sur­veil­lance more broad­ly. For now, this cam­er­a’s not con­nect­ed to a lamp­post or a build­ing but it is con­nect­ed to a per­son. A per­son to whom I can voice my frus­tra­tions. A per­son we can kick out of a restau­rant. A per­son we can define as a glasshole. 

These are the seem­ing­ly sub­tle human-computer rela­tion­ships that we are start­ing to study. Partially because we’re inter­est­ed in how this can help us design bet­ter tech­nolo­gies. But also it helps us under­stand the very real and poten­tial­ly harm­ful reper­cus­sions of our tra­di­tion­al design meth­ods. Ask your­self, just because you choose to adopt a tech­nol­o­gy does that mean that you trust, val­ue, or con­done it? 

Oftentimes when some­thing like this—like Google Glass fails, the gut response is, You know, peo­ple just aren’t ready for it yet.” But this is dan­ger­ous. Because it makes the assump­tion that the best plan of action is to facil­i­tate, cre­ate, or wait for the right con­di­tions in order to try again. 

But what if we as design­ers took a step back and said you know, what’s wrong with my process? Why are my designs cre­at­ing fear, anx­i­ety, and para­noia? And last­ly what if my prac­tices and my own lived expe­ri­ence do not relate to those who I inten­tion­al­ly or uninten­tion­al­ly design for? 

Rather than begrudg­ing­ly push­ing soci­ety for­ward to be ready, I ask design­ers to crit­i­cal­ly reflect on the lim­i­ta­tions of their own design prac­tices and to remem­ber that to design for one inter­sec­tion of society—namely, afflu­ent middle-to-upper-class white American men—does not mean that those designs will work for those who do not iden­ti­fy as such. Even with modifications. 

This is more than bring­ing the right peo­ple to the table. This is about chang­ing who gets to make deci­sions, and how. Because we know that our design prac­tices do not come from neu­tral or acul­tur­al places. They rep­re­sent the implic­it and explic­it iden­ti­ties, val­ues, his­to­ries, habits, and cul­tures of those who make them. Which we know in the tech indus­try is pre­dom­i­nate­ly het­ero cis­gen­dered men who iden­ti­fy with Western schools of thought. If we’re going to make change we have to make room for change in our method­ol­o­gy. This does not mean that our exist­ing prac­tices method­olo­gies are bad, or invalid. It just means that they, like all prac­tices, have limitations. 

To address these issues in my own work, I col­lab­o­rate with oth­er peo­ple who’re inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing research from a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al per­spec­tive of what it means to be human. In this, we cel­e­brate a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of embod­ied iden­ti­ties, includ­ing queer, fem­i­nist, racial­ly diverse, and differently-abled per­spec­tives, because we think it’s important. 

To sum­ma­rize, our work is com­pas­sion­ate. We do our work with an ethos of care and joy. Our work is kines­thet­ic, which means that we fore­front movement-based and bod­i­ly knowl­edge. And last­ly, we see our­selves as dis­rup­tors. We do work to ques­tion, inter­ro­gate, inves­ti­gate, and break apart struc­tures that we see as need­ing rad­i­cal change. 

If we want our tech­nolo­gies to rep­re­sent all of us in soci­ety then we need to make room for rad­i­cal change. This means doing wild things like invit­ing a socially-conscious move­ment prac­ti­tion­er to the design table. Our tech­nolo­gies are too much a part of our every­day lives to have only cer­tain socio­cul­tur­al per­spec­tives and cer­tain prac­tices embed­ded with­in them. So we need to make room for change. Thank you.

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