Aesthetics for Engineers: Technical Writing, Fall 2015

Image: Documentation for Utility Patent no. 48,659. Submitted to The Department of the Interior, 1865.

I’m teaching Technical Writing for the second time at Clemson this semester. The cornerstone project I developed for this course populated by a good mix of engineers is an “Immunization Design,” a concept borrowed from Benjamin H. Bratton. In the video below, he introduces the notion as a more viable alternative to the zeitgeist of “innovation” presently circulating in higher education. The result of too great an emphasis on the next new app, device, or widget for its own sake is a low ceiling that actually prevents imaginative design.

Rather than nourishing short-term proposals fit for startups and the ever shrinking “failure loop,” the relationship with information proposed here suggests the possibility genuine intervention I would associate with techne as an inexact “craft knowledge” of that which “admits of being otherwise.”1 The project touches on themes of building and making that resonate with engineering, and does so at the nexus of (stale) arts/sciences dialectics we’ve investigated—and critiqued—throughout the course. Not incidentally, it is the power of the aesthetic, humanities, and other forms of social sciences that guide and make possible meaningful progress:

“If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff: the history, economics, philosophy, art—the ambiguities and contradictions. Because focusing just on technology or just on innovation actually prevents transformation. We need to raise the level of general understanding of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. . . . It’s about the hard and difficult work of demystification and reconceptualization. More Copernicus, less Tony Robins.”

I can’t wait to get a copy of Bratton’s forthcoming investigation of planetary scale computation, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, due out on MIT Press early next year.

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1139b ff.