Beyond Technology and Economy

As I was researching my previous post on the psychology behind why we play games, I found myself tangentially exploring game theory.

I haven’t studied economics OR philosophy!

From Wikipedia:  Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Rationality, in this case, meaning that “an individual acts as if balancing costs against benefits to arrive at an action that maximizes personal advantage” (Milton Friedman). My brain then leaps back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, in which he writes about how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity. 

The concept of using a rational actor working for his own self-interest seemingly flies directly in the face of what is needed to reign in the ecological catastrophe we’ve created. The rational decision maker works for their own self-interest, but we need humans working for the interest of themselves and their fellows. How can we design and work within global and local systems in order to nudge people to make the sometimes less comfortable decision in the interest of global preservation? I think that delight is one way: tap into a persons pleasure principle and trigger right action by satisfying the psychological motivation for play.

A second way is more subtle and involves a mature interaction between human and designed space. The majority of people, given the right environment, have great capacity for empathy, charity, and intelligence, and that most people enjoy the feelings produced by acting in these ways. I’d like to go out on a limb here and introduce a new element to the systems we’ve discussed so far — a sense of sacredness. This isn’t a sacredness attached to any one culture or religion, but rather a sense of dignity and upliftedness that comes from fulfilling our human potential, and it can arise anywhere.

In addition to all the technologies, economies, walkabilities, and efficiencies, we need to allow for a sense of dignity in our discussions and implementations. For example, I understand the need for CFL bulbs, but cool light they produce make me feel icky and gross, and I have a minor resentment that I have to use them. They don’t uplift my environment and therefor they become a burden to use. On the other hand, I really like my reusable mesh bag from Central America. It’s small enough to fit in my pocket, but expands big enough to carry the most manly of loads. It’s dignified in a way that my ‘fun’ bag from Trader Joe’s isn’t, and I use it much more. This sense of dignity doesn’t stem from any ‘rational-actor’ mode of thinking: the CFL is cheaper and the TJs bag carries more.


My thesis work next year will center around how to implement sacredness into urban landscapes w/ the intention of increasing human connection with the sustainability movement, and so I’m still figuring out what it all means, but I believe the concepts is far reaching, scalable, and a necessary component of our work moving forward.


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