Those familiar with my work know I’m interested in how technologies can embody values, or more specifically, how the design of technologies bears directly and systematically on the realization – or suppression – of social, ethical, and political values, such as privacy, access to knowledge, autonomy, and liberty. While my research is focused mainly on new information and communication technologies, one of the first ideas that got me interested in this unique area of research was this passage in Mike Davis’ City of Quartz about the design of physical elements in Los Angeles meant to deter loitering and use by the homeless: “One of the most common, but mind-numbing, of these deterrents is the Rapid Transit District’s new barrelshaped bus bench that offers a minimal surface for uncomfortable sitting, while making sleeping utterly impossible.”
Through their specific and conscious design, a bench became “bumproof.” The simple bench, originally meant for sitting, lounging, and relaxing by whomever came upon it, became a political technology (ala Langdon Winner) designed to deter certain use by certain populations.
Recently (thanks to BoingBoing and the Architectures of Control blog), I came across this amazing collection of similar anti-sit technologies. Truly stellar examples of (negative) values embodied in the design of technology.