Familiarity and Withdrawal – A call for the Design that doesn’t work

The Internet-of-things, Ubicomp, and cloud computing and just darn good design, are allowing tools to disappear and withdrawal before we can get to know them. The technology of Post-modernity is ashamed of itself.

This blog is turning into a blog about continental philosophy and technology which is fine, though I hardly feel I have the right to write articulately about either. As this is my second entry - I want to take the time to say, please comment or feel free to email me (b.wohl@lancaster.ac.uk). I reserve the right to be wrong – I am not an expert but hope to explore where technology and philosophy begin to overlap.

It seems to be at least somewhat obligatory to get a mention of Heidegger in early: and in a sesame street way todays blog is brought to you by the terms 'Familiarity' and 'Withdrawal'. I think something strange begins to happen to these two Heideggerian concepts as the level of complexity (as in number of components, as in deliberation of design, as in layers of development) increases. And as, the song goes, If I had a hammer, the longer I used it the more familiar I would become with the weight and shape, the hammer would cease to be 'a hammer' and at some point through a process would become 'my hammer'. As I understand it this where the hammer begins to withdraw - I become less and less aware of the hammer.

But with complex equipment (with technology, with 'modern technology'?) is this still the case. The 'question concerning technology' reminds us to see 'technology' as a revealing, or truth showing. I can see this as the case with say my thermos flask or even 'plumbing' where the technology reveals to me a way of seeing the my world and in the case of plumbing there is a revealing of biological and physical forces. Heidegger indicates that 'modern technology' is s 'setting-upon' a storing up. Still with both of these description of technology there is a path of understanding that shows that withdraw is reached through familiarity and familiarity is and understanding (evening a 'coming to an understanding').

Digital and Designed technology is different and perhaps should be called 'technology of post-modernity'. 'Post-modernity technology' is ashamed of itself, is ashamed of the 'setting-upon' of modernity but the age of the 'post-modernity' is deeply wedded to the ideology of modernity. What 'post-modernity technology' then attempts to do is deny its own existence. The 'post -modernity technology' prevents Dasein becoming familiar (because Dasein does not desire for the 'modern technology' too 'set-upon' his/her life) - 'post-modernity' technology jumps straight in at withdrawal. skipping both the 'revealing' and 'familiarity'.

I see this as the trend in digital technology particularly where technology literally as well as figuratively is becoming more and more withdrawn without at need for familiarity. I think, we can use the development of the automobile to highlight this shift within the same artefact.

Early cars were in every sense a Heideggerian 'modern- technology' - 'setting-upon' and 'storing-upon' (or challenging) - The automobile was a 'challenge' to the social world and also to the city. The early automobiles and even up into the early 20th century however were clearly 'un-ready-to-hand', working badly but at the same time through building up familiarity the diver moves the automobile to a 'ready-at-hand' tool until for the drivers at least the car and driver became one, the car had 'withdrawn'.

As a driver of a modern Honda, I must admit - I do not know the slightest of how it works. In a Hieddeggerian I am not familiar at all, but the car has already withdrawn, is 'ready-to-hand' and 'familiarity' aside as a 'Dasein' the 'honda' is part of my 'world' part of me.

All this theory aside, there are two properties of 'post-modernity technology' which demand a return and moving beyond Heidegger.

1. Post-modern technology does not build familiarity through use. Familiarity is built through effort and enquiry, and tends to remain with an elite.

2. Post-modern technology in its essence (and design) aims for withdrawal, invisibility, denial of its self. This usually through a designed level of 'ready-to-handness'.

As a example: DOS and early windows were 'modern- technologies' because although they 'set-upon' our time, the technology started as 'unready-to-hand' and only became natural to use 'read-to-hand' through the use where the OS withdrew from awareness 'disappeared'.

IOS is clearly a 'post-modern technology', apologising already for 'setting-upon' our time, apologising for being a 'modern technology', it attempts to withdraw from the beginning. The recent, upgrade to IOS7 was disruptive to so many mac users because for the first time their device was 'unready-to-hand' and we needed to build familiarity for the technology too again 'withdraw' becoming a seamless part of our world and ourselves.

I lay challenge before software developers and designer and technologist and innovators - can we build a world that deliberately is 'unready-to-hand' and only through understanding can a user allow this new breed of devices to take a bow and withdraw.

(as a side note - check out Bigshot Camara as an example of this)

© 2013 HighWire, The LICA Building, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YW Website Design by Fat Media