During the Research Through Design 2019 conference in Delft, I participated in a workshop about Ethics in Data-related RTD. During the workshop, we took the perspective of things to start conversations about data and ethics. Here I share my thing-centred reflections:
The workshop organisers, inspired by podcast Everything is alive, invited us (in groups of two) to interview each other as a thing. Everything is alive is an unscripted interview show in which all the interviewers are inanimate objects. In each episode a different thing tells its life story. Emmy for example is a pregnancy test and she “is just trying to stay positive”.
Each participant was asked to bring a thing that raises concerns related to connected, IOT devices. I brought with me a design scenario that we created in earlier stages of the project to help us as a team to deepen our understandings of how media, metadata, digital services and platforms of gig economy can support ongoingness.
I found the Thing-Interviews method super interesting as it revealed frictions and nuances of the services and the interaction with people that I have not thought before. It helped me think through ethical concerns in data-enabled RtD and provide a deeper understanding of the challenges we are facing when we are designing experiences for future encounters.
You can read thing-interview from the workshop below. We are planning to refine the interview and use it within future workshops with our partners.
Interviewer: How long did it take for you to be selected by somebody, as a service?
Service: So, it wasn't, it wasn't easy to be selected. So, I had to compete with a lot of others existing services. So, what I did was that I sent a lot of notification through social media.
I: What did you say in those notifications?
S: If you want something to happen in the future, we can guarantee our service will support it for the next two years, we cannot really guarantee for more. That's right. So, we're promoting for how long we can last.
I: I mean, the person who is buying the service, obviously will never know if you will ever fulfil your promise. How do you convince them that it will happen? Do you have a client testimonial? Or something like that?
S: We work in personal level. So, we, we may contact family member. Family members can get to know us, and then they contact us back if they want to talk to us. We actually work in a one to one basis and based on what the individual wants.
I: Right. Interesting. So, you got selected by Jan. Did you like her? Do you have any feelings towards her? Because you only really can be used once, I guess? Or would you also provide services to others? Do you have a one service? Or do you have 50clients at the same time?
S: We are actually collaborating with different services. So, it's not just one you might know Uber and Deliveroo, and Docmail, so you can print a letter. We are the mediators, the intermediate person, I would say. So, it was actually really hard to talk to Jan, when we get to know her. So, it's really hard for us to find the word sometimes. So, we were not so familiar with that situation
I: I can imagine that's hard. And did you agree with the activity that she wanted you to do in the end? Or was there some way? Did you know, did you have an opinion about that? Did you think well, maybe she shouldn't send John to that place or to another place.
S: The thing is, we actually didn't know the place. There is very personal information that
we didn’t want to know, and Jan didn't want to share. So that was in a way of a bit of a tricky part. So, we had to be very able to help her. Yes, when we actually and it's not, you're right, it's not just one service. So actually, making it happen over time is just so hard.
I: Because what would you do if that place somehow didn't exist anymore? Or, you know, if a building was built there? Would you then invent something else to replace for John or would you just cancel the whole thing?
S: We give the choice to John to decide if he wants to go to the place or not. So, in that conversation, that we would just inform him about the situation and ask him if he wants to go or not. It sounds very personal. And it should be that way.
I: Yeah. That make sense. And what if he wants to bring a friend or if he had a new relationship? Would that be ok? Would you prohibit that? Would you be cautious about that? Or would that be something that Jane has to decide beforehand?
S: I think John is the person who will take those decisions, there's not us. What we will provide is the ability for him to do in different points, to actually take his own choices and decide what he really wants to do. So, if he wants to bring his partner that would be no problem with that. The difficulty that we have is that we can only support the service for a limited period of time. And which is a very challenging
I: Yes. And happens to the investment if John passes away? Then you will not make a profit.
S: Yes, another thing who is paying for the services? It is Jane or John or another family member? So essentially, it's more people from the family involved with us do that, or just John? We are not profitable business.
I: Does Jan maybe give a plan B or Plan C in case Plan A doesn't work?
S: It is up to Jan to decide, she could send a birthday card, she could set up an ongoing event or an on-off thing that is happening. It's really her choice and we're facilitating that decision. Yeah.
I: And do you facilitate because it is of course quite a difficult situation when you are terminal ill, so do you facilitate a psychological support for her?
S: We do work with a counsellor and we do work with people who have experienced in bereavement as well supporting people with cancer or dementia. Yeah.
I: Because I can also imagine that for John if this happens in X amount of time after Jan has died him that this very difficult moment. Do you only provide support for him to deal with his bereavement?
S: So that's part of the service, that people can always call us and we can provide the support. We have more of the details within individual services. So, for example, if there is a driver, which obviously has never seen John before, yeah, also be to the challenges that we thought of how we could overcome. For example, the driver knows a few things – John’s favourite song, something, or John can choose the route
I: That would also be weird very weird that the driver knows stuff about John. Or, you know, yeah,
S: So the only way that we thought we can overcome this is through a channel of conversation with the driver is or it could potentially be a family member.
S: I guess Jan can decide that. And yeah, then she would be making decisions on John’s behalf of what he actually likes, which is interesting.
I: It’s a lot about choice and decisions.
/// Thank you faciliating great discussions @anu1905 @iohanna_ed @elisagiaccardi & james pierce
Written by Nantia in Apr 2019.