Currents 067: Zak Stein on Ending Nihilistic Design



Jim talks with recurring guest Zak Stein about the Consilience Project’s article “Technology is Not Values Neutral: Ending the Reign of Nihilistic Design.” They discuss how technologies actualize & encode values, 2nd- & 3rd-order effects of technologies, the “invisible hand” approach to design, effects of cars on culture, landscapes, & sexuality, the work of historian of technology Lewis Mumford, how smartphones affect structures of communication & cognition, how the bathroom scale changed the meaning of health, clock time & capitalism, the deskilling tradeoff of technology, how Facebook became a case study in nihilistic design, the difficulty of predicting nth-order effects, monitoring & predicting psychosocial externalities, Jim’s role in early social-media design choices, axiological design, our accidental planetary computational stack, developing co-responsibility in tech, whether banning advertising could change everything, 5 propositions towards axiological design, thinking about tech & its users in the whole context, and much more.

Zachary Stein is a writer, educator, and futurist working to bring a greater sense of sanity and justice to education. He studied philosophy and religion at Hampshire College, and then educational neuroscience, human development, and the philosophy of education at Harvard University. While a student at Harvard, he co-founded what would become Lectica, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the research-based, justice-oriented reform of large-scale standardized testing in K-12, higher-education, and business.

He has published two books. Social Justice and Educational Measurement was based on his dissertation and traces the history of standardized testing and its ethical implications. His second book, Education in a Time Between Worlds, expands the philosophical work to include grappling with the relations between schooling and technology more broadly. He writes for peer-reviewed academic journals across a range of topics including the philosophy of learning, educational technology, and integral theory. He’s a scholar at the Ronin Institute, Co-President and Academic Director of the activist think-tank at the Center for Integral Wisdom, and scientific advisor to the board of the Neurohacker Collective, as well as a co-founder of The Consilience Project.