Reframing Progress in the Digital Age: Moving Forward Sustainably

By Bran Richards, Stuart Walker and Lynne Blair.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Based on the Quadruple Bottom Line of design for sustainability, we recently introduced the concept of ‘Cyber-Sustainability’ as a means of discussing the degree to which the current trajectory of Web-mediated technologies may not be sustainable with respect to environmental, social, spiritual, and secondarily economic human needs. This paper introduces, as an additional concern, society’s increased dependence on digitisation, which decreases society’s resilience in the face of possible localised or systemic disruptions to Web services. Given that technological progress is often envisaged as a future in which daily life is characterised by greater dependence on technology, this paper seeks to understand how this seemingly unsustainable trend is fostered by powerful associations between the notion of ‘progress’ and Post-Industrial conceptions of ‘meaning’. To determine how this specific understanding of progress has underpinned the current trajectory of technological development, we analyse Progress as a frame that encompasses a set of values, shown here to be in tension with environmental, social and spiritual sustainability. Finally, an alternative ambition for a sustainable digital future is offered in the form of a new positive development frame, within which specific Cyber-Sustainable design criteria might be generated.

Keywords: Sustainability, Digitisation, Progress, Values, Frames, Patterns

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.53-61. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 392.499KB).

Bran Richards

PhD Student, HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

My undergraduate training was in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and I have a Master’s of Fine Arts, an M.Sc. in Design Ethnography and an M.Res. I am in the first year of my Ph.D. at Lancaster University’s Digital Economy initiative HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training, which brings together the disciplines of Computing, Design & Management. All of my work to date has been about issues of human well-being in contemporary society, and my current research focuses on the environmental and psychological impacts of digital technology. My Ph.D. output will be to propose radical designs for alternative digital development that may prepare society-psychologically and infrastructurally-for more sustainable living, and perhaps even for eventually unplugging.

Prof. Stuart Walker

Professor, ImaginationLancaster (Design), Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

Professor Stuart Walker is Co-Director of the Imagination Lancaster creative research lab at Lancaster University, UK, and Visiting Professor of Sustainable Design at Kingston University, UK. Formerly, he was Associate Dean at the Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary, Canada, where he retains an affiliation. His research papers have been published and presented internationally and his conceptual designs have been exhibited at the Design Museum, London, across Canada, in Rome and, most recently, at the Storey Gallery, Lancaster, UK. He serves on the editorial boards of several international journals. His book, Sustainable by Design: Explorations in Theory and Practice is published by Earthscan, London, and Enabling Solutions, co-authored with Ezio Manzini and Barry Wylant is published by the University of Calgary Press.

Dr. Lynne Blair

Senior Lecturer, School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

Historically, my research focused on the area of formal specification and verification, particularly distributed multimedia systems and their associated quality of service. This included the development of a multi-paradigm specification environment that incorporated process algebra, automata and logic-based techniques. This led to research on dynamic quality of service management strategies for distributed multimedia systems, using timed automata (and stochastically enhanced timed automata) to model QoS monitors and controllers. My more recent research has focused on human aspects of computing – such as attending to spiritual needs – and the environmental implications of Web developments such as cloud computing.