Abstract: This paper looks at the fundamental characteristics of the design of technology platforms in an attempt to shed light on the way technological infrastructure (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) can be used by political actors to create and exert power. Platforms, by design, allow for fluid and dynamic forms of organization, providing the infrastructure for socio-technical networks that can operate simultaneously as value-neutral or value-laden tools. Moreover, due to their dynamic nature, platforms are constantly being shaped by the actors with different capacities, while also shaping them in return. The direction of this change is hard to define, yet an understanding of what their design allows to happen would help provide a better framework for the analysis of this phenomenon and pave the way towards a more understanding to the nature of the social inter-subjectivity between technology and humanity. To this end, this article starts by introducing literature from software studies and design thinking explaining the logic of platforms. Then the article looks at the role of technology in changing the political landscape in the Middle East. Ultimately, this highlights the dynamics whereby actors can manipulate different dimensions and characteristics of platforms design to gain power and make an impact.
With the increased ubiquity of technology in our world, new technologies have fundamentally changed social structures, altering the way humans perform basic tasks,[i] the way individuals work and communicate, and modes of political engagement and governance.[ii] According to Bratton, this new structure of the networked society is understood through its “logic of design”.[iii] Arguably, design thinking applied to the technological architecture of everyday life can provide us with the tools for a deeper understanding of the social dynamics[iv] that are opening up opportunities for real change. It is thus urgent that we build a public understanding of technology away from the simple and naive conceptualisation of technology as a tool, the design of which is limited by default options[v]. This paper proposes a design systems thinking approach as an adequate analytical framework for examining technological structures and the dynamics established within them. It argues that analysing the use of new media technologies – i.e., Facebook and Twitter – in the context of the Middle East within this proposed framework can shed light on the dynamics underpinning the unfolding of the political situations in different countries of this region, including Tunisia, Egypt and Kuwait. This approach has the merit of revealing how new technologies altered the systems in place, led to unsettlement, redistributed power and put the political landscape into a new configuration.
Ultimately, this paper aims to highlight the importance of the reconceptualization of new technologies within the public discourse towards building a better understanding of the political situation. Section 1 reviews literature on design thinking and discusses technology as infrastructure directing human actions. Section 2 presents a case study which discusses the role of social media technologies in the development of the political situation in the Middle East, and Section 3 presents our conclusions.
[i] Schwab, Klaus. 2016. The fourth industrial revolution.
[ii] Bratton, Benjamin H. 2016. The Stack – On Software and Sovereignty. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
[iv] Gobble, M. M. (2014). Design thinking. Research Technology Management, 57(3), 59-61. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.gate3.library.lse.ac.uk/docview/1535264096?accountid=9630
[v] Schwab, Klaus. 2018. Shaping the fourth industrial revolution.