By way of attemp­t­ing to ela­bo­ra­te an this sug­ges­ti­on, con­si­der the fol­lowing spe­cu­la­ti­ve observations:

1. The gre­at tempt­ati­on of any game is for it to beco­me too self-con­tai­ned, an acti­vi­ty of pure­ly aes­the­tic plea­su­re or tech­ni­cal achie­ve­ment. Inso­far as all play beco­mes not a tem­pora­ry sepa­ra­ti­on from quo­ti­di­an rea­li­ties, but a pull away from life, it beco­mes sub­ject to social cri­ti­cism. The artist con­cer­ned only with form, the engi­neer con­cer­ned only with tech­ni­cal solutions—the pur­su­it of art for art’s sake, engi­nee­ring for the sake of engineering—can be chal­len­ged by more inclu­si­ve issu­es and social orders.

2. The human prac­ti­ce of designing sim­ply as designing can be said to deepen the ten­den­cy inherent in all play by exhi­bi­t­ing a mar­ked incli­na­ti­on to distance the desi­gner from self-exami­na­ti­on or social respon­si­bi­li­ty. Stu­dies of the psy­cho­lo­gy and beha­vi­or of com­pu­ter hackers dra­ma­ti­cal­ly con­firm this point,[32] but it is hin­ted at as well by the ethos of each design tra­di­ti­on. The engi­nee­ring tra­di­ti­on of obedience and the avant-gar­de tra­di­ti­on of inde­pen­dence in the arts are but two expres­si­ons of dis­junc­tions, from self and community.

3. Designing, unli­ke more limi­ted forms of play, con­sti­tu­tes a gene­ral pul­ling away from or bra­cke­ting of the world that can have immedia­te prac­ti­cal impact. The para­do­xi­cal strengths of the mathe­ma­tiz­a­ti­on and mode­ling of modern design are that, more effec­tively than ever befo­re, they sepa­ra­te from the world of expe­ri­ence and pro­vi­de new levers for the tech­no­lo­gi­cal mani­pu­la­ti­on of that world. Modern designing opens its­elf to being pul­led back into the world bey­ond anything that desi­gners them­sel­ves might ima­gi­ne, desi­re, or plan. Hence, again, the­re exists a fun­da­men­tal obli­ga­ti­on to remem­ber the mate­ri­als, return to real things, and not let minia­tu­re making beco­me so minia­tu­re that it cea­ses to reflect and enga­ge the world.

4. Perhaps nowhe­re is the chal­len­ge of remem­be­ring rea­li­ty more important than in com­pu­ter-aided design. Alt­hough tre­men­dous­ly power­ful and attrac­ti­ve, com­pu­ter-aided design is equal­ly dan­ge­rous, pre­cise­ly becau­se even more than designing with pen­cil and paper against a back­ground of prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence with real-world arti­facts, design with com­pu­ters works in a rare­fied medi­um with a faci­li­ty that tends to deny the need for world­ly expe­ri­ence. As Euge­ne Fer­gu­son has argued, To accom­plish a design of any con­si­derable complexity—a pas­sen­ger ele­va­tor or a rail­road loco­mo­ti­ve or a lar­ge heat exch­an­ger in an acid plant—requires a con­ti­nuous stream of cal­cu­la­ti­ons, judgments, and com­pro­mi­ses that should only be made by engi­neers expe­ri­en­ced in the kind of sys­tem being desi­gned. The “big” decisi­ons obvious­ly should be based an inti­ma­te, first­hand, inter­na­li­zed know­ledge of ele­va­tors, loco­mo­ti­ves, or heat exch­an­gers.[33]

5. But just as obvious­ly, in a socie­ty in which ele­va­tors, loco­mo­ti­ves, and heat exch­an­gers are incre­a­singly run by com­pu­ters, and child­ren rather than play­ing with trains play with video game trains, it is dif­fi­cult to cul­ti­va­te an inti­ma­te, first­hand, inter­na­li­zed know­ledge of mate­ri­al rea­li­ty. Vir­tu­al expe­ri­ence is no sub­sti­tu­te for phy­si­cal expe­ri­ence. The pro­blems of design are not iso­la­ted in design. They are part of, even at one with, the lar­ger mate­ri­al world and cul­tu­re as a who­le. To return to real things is a chal­len­ge throughout the ways of life cha­rac­te­ris­tic of post­mo­dern society.

6. The real expe­ri­ence of struggling to return to real things taking ethics bey­ond fun­da­men­tal princi­ples into spe­ci­fic cases will be the basis for deve­lo­p­ment of a phro­ne­sis of the techno-lifeworld.

The pro­blems with design are not just tech­ni­cal or aes­the­tic but also ethi­cal. Inde­ed, intro­du­cing ethics into design revels the deepest aspects of our dif­fi­cul­ties. But the dif­fi­cul­ties we face can­not begin to be addres­sed without clear-sigh­ted­ness. To attempt to reco­gni­ze them is its­elf to strugg­le for the right and the good.[34]

Die­ser Essay wur­de mit freund­li­cher Geneh­mi­gung des Autors ent­nom­men aus:
Mit­cham, Carl: Steps toward a Phi­lo­so­phy of Engi­nee­ring. His­to­ri­co-Phi­lo­so­phi­cal and Cri­ti­cal Essays. Lon­don: Row­man & Little­field, 2020.


»Sprache für die Form«, Ausgabe Nr. 18, Frühjahr 2021