17th October, 2023
I may have sounded confident the last time I wrote, but I have since completely changed my mind.
My ideas around ethical tools for product managers were too technocratic. Arguably, they were a technocratic solution to a technocratic problem. Still, in focussing on tempering how tools are constructed within neoliberalism, it felt like I was missing something vital. That thing is something I can’t quite put my finger on, but it is something akin to rebelliousness or agonistic discourse.
The recent discussion on education Twitter about banning mobile phones at school gave me an idea. There seems to be a lot of evidence that phones are bad for young people. So banning them is a logical action. It is an interesting action as, by banning them, we are saying there is no hope of using them as a positive tool for learning and communication in the school setting. Lots of the discourse seems to assume that phones are bad in and of themselves. Hopeless, terrible objects!
My first reaction as someone who is instinctively pro-technology is to question this approach. Surely, with a bit of imagination, phones could be put to great use in the classroom! They could be useful for students conducting research, completing interactive polls, creating images and videos, or even boring stuff like receiving updates on class times and locations. See, not terrible after all!
But you can’t easily control personal devices. For every useful, convivial app, there are several that aren’t. And the non-useful ones are designed to pull our attention, to make us engage even when rationally we know we shouldn't, to take our hard-earned money.
I tweeted something along the lines of, “What if, instead of banning phones, we demand technology that is designed better?” Still a techno-optimistic stance. One that assumes we, as consumers, can influence business people in Silicon Valley. But what if we can’t influence them? Then perhaps banning phones is the correct action. It safeguards young people from harm and sends a clear message that manipulative technology is not welcome in our communities.
So, for my thesis, I could explore mobile phone bans in schools within the history of resistance to technology. Imagine a provocative title such as, “Are head teachers the new Luddites? Exploring mobile phone bans in British schools.”
I am sure someone else has done this. Next step: literature search.