Michelle is interested in the myths and mechanisms of new technologies

As an undergraduate studying anthropology and urban planning, I was interested in exploring how individual health and wellbeing is often determined by food landscapes, physical surroundings, and access to transportation. As a product designer working on contemporary tech products, I strive to apply these frameworks to the digital products we create. I’m interested in how humans move through digital experiences, and how these experiences can augment, harm, or otherwise influence an individual’s non-digital life. As an extension, I’m interested in identifying the underlying cultural and economic mechanisms of the tech industry itself, and exploring how this impacts the products we create and the values and wellbeing of consumers who use these products, as well as society as a whole.

As a designer at Thoughtbot, I worked with startups to build out their MVP web and native apps. I led research and user experience efforts on client projects, along with front-end development work and project management strategies. At Lyft, I worked on the future of ridesharing and led driver earnings and incentive design and research from 2015 to 2017. I currently work on core features for GitHub, the platform that houses most of the world’s code.

I’m primarily interested in the cultural mechanisms of the tech industry, the ethical impacts of ICTs, and the ways these two topics are unequivocally interconnected.

Areas of interest

These are little threads that I like to pull at. The notes below aren’t meant to be comprehensive or necessarily comprehensible, and may change over time.

Openness as a response to gatekeeping or perceived injustice

I’m interested in looking at the convergence of specific abstract concepts like egalitarianism, openness, collaboration, and connection with specific physical spaces or interactions and activities. As is often the case, even though these spaces and activities come to superficially represent egalitarianism or collaboration and are constantly held up as examples of social progress, they often fail to actually manifest this because beneficial change happens through intentionality and context.

The ambiguity that results in these “open” and “equal” spaces further obfuscates the very real, still existing power structures present, and often make it harder to identify, acknowledge, and fix inequalities in the system. As an added component, these abstract concepts are often used to raise the socially progressive image of a company’s activities, while often not achieving the actual social value and instead helping the company maintain or grow its power and wealth. This is a common foundational belief and outcome present in spaces and activities like:

  • Open source software
  • Open office layouts
  • Flat hierarchies
  • Open networks (social media, ex. twitter)
  • The tech industry (disruption theory, moving fast, etc)

Favorite reading in this area:

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman, 1972

The Proper Copy by Cori Hayden, 2010

Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure by Nadia Eghbal, 2016

My research round-up about open offices, 2017

The importance of quietness, privacy, thought before action

Quiet by Susan Cain, 2012 (TED Talk)

Technocracy and the Tech Industry

Technopoly by Neil Postman, 1993 (my extensive notes)

Birth as an American Right of Passage by Robbie Davis-Floyd, 1992

Everything is a myth

If everything is a myth, we can start looking at the ruptures between the myth and our lived reality to better understand the structures we’re operating under. For example: if open offices are so bad for businesses and humans, what myths are compelling their existence, and who benefits from their continued use?

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, 1988

Colonialism and Computing

Postcolonial Computing by Lilly Irani, Janet Vertesi, Paul Dourish, Kavita Philip and Rebecca E. Grinter, 2010

“Data driven, objective” thinking vs. qualitative thought





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