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Lincoln Center visiting scholar brings critical design, responsible innovation to ASU

During a three-week visit, Marcel O’Gorman will host a series of professional workshops at ASU

Marcel O'Gorman sitting with a laptop in front of him.

Professor Marcel O'Gorman visiting Arizona State University.

February 23, 2022

Professor Marcel O’Gorman is hosting an event series to empower people to create movements and take to the streets using critical design practices, and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics has saved you a front row seat.

The center is honored to host O’Gorman, founding director of the Critical Media Lab at University of Waterloo, for a three-week visit to Arizona State University. Over the course of his visit, O’Gorman is hosting a series of professional workshops titled “Atelier Technique Populaire'' for staff, faculty and students, along with a public talk titled “Responsible Innovation and Critical Design” on teachings and practices of critical design techniques. Through these events, his goal is to empower people to consider how technology impacts humans, examine our role in that impact, and ask who is counted as human in the process.

O’Gorman founded the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, to fulfill the need he saw for a media lab that was critical and reflective of technology. Instead of asking, “What cool thing can we do with technology?” his lab is more interested in asking, “What is technology doing to us?” 

“It's more than just thinking about technology, it's also a practice of being reflective by creating new technologies,” O’Gorman said. “The lab’s motto is ‘technology investigating technology,’ so instead of just writing about technological impacts and reflecting on them, you actually create technology and get your hands dirty through small hardware construction, interactive media and software design, and various forms of installation and public art interventions.”

To contribute to that mission, O’Gorman is hosting “Atelier Technique Populaire” workshops, inspired by and titled after the historic Atelier Populaire 1968 protest group from Paris, France. This group consisted of students, labor unions, artists and other workers who gathered together to create massive protests marked by provocative posters that famously communicated their ideas for institutional change. 

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

'Gorman sitting in front of a white board with brainstorming written on it.

Professor Marcel O

In the same spirit, O’Gorman is a participant of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics’ Humane Tech Design Studios. These design studios are a series of events with cohorts of international professors and professionals who reflect together on critical issues, spanning how technology has changed our relationship to home, to work and to our bodies. The cohorts then co-create questions and ideas to better their relationship to technology, and ultimately create a future keyed to human flourishing. 

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

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

A significant theme throughout O’Gorman’s work is “tech for good,” which is the title of a declaration he helped write to motivate companies to be more reflective about the impact of their products on people in society.

“However, it's time to move beyond declarations and manifestoes and start actually acting on principles," O’Gorman said. "The tech community needs practices to reflect more carefully on the products they’re creating. Who might you be excluding from your consumer base, for example? What labour practices feed into your supply chain? Who are you hiring to make these products? We have problems with facial recognition, for example, and algorithmic bias due to a lack of diversity and inclusion in tech. Making critical reflection an essential part of the technology creation process can help avoid these injustices.

“When we talk about humane technology, who is the human that we're talking about? Who gets to be human, and who gets to decide who is human? This is very much about thinking of who we are, what our agenda is, and how we can be more inclusive. It’s not enough to plug ethics into a tech company, we have to acknowledge the problems in big tech are tied directly to long-standing social inequities. We still have a lot to learn from the civil rights movement and people who are still protesting and organizing. Hopefully workshops like the Atelier Technique Populaire, the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics team and other organizations can make these issues visible and create opportunities for solidarity and community building that will lead to a better future.”

Upcoming event

At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, O’Gorman will be hosting a public talk titled “Responsible Innovation and Critical Design” in Ross-Blakley Hall, room 196, on ASU's Tempe campus and on ZoomBased on workshops that O’Gorman hosts for University of Waterloo engineering students, this talk will highlight the key issues that tech developers and people impacted by tech culture should be thinking about when it comes to their work and how it affects people in the world.

The talk will provide suggestions on how to incorporate critical design into the foundation of your work so that you can build solutions without negatively impacting communities, both at home and globally. O’Gorman will dive into the benefits of critical design, how it can give you room for reflection on your practices of innovation and ultimately enhance your work.

Register for the event.

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