During the Winter 2013 term I took a critical making course at the iSchool. For our first project we were asked to create a moral technology. Prior to beginning the project we spent several weeks learning how to work with Arduinos and various electronic components, as well as reading texts that explored issues like design theory and processes, ethics, morality and the social study technology. We were then challenged to bring what had been tow separate vectors– the technological and the theoretical– together into one project. I approached this project from the perspective that a moral technology should render strange the traces and effects of human action in the world. My foundational principle was that morality is an object to be investigated, not posited.
Working from this assumption I wanted to create a technology that was simple, that did not specify a particular kind of physical interaction (pressing a button, waving a hand, etc.), that did not assume a particular moral position or stance, but did invite reaction. To this end I created “Bell Tolls.” “Bell Tolls” is a machine that has been programmed to ring a bell every 30 seconds, the rate at which a child in the world dies of malaria. In other words, “Bell Tolls” is a technology that makes audible a statistical representation of malaria deaths. Malaria is a disease that is both preventable and curable. What’s more, we currently have the tools to eradicate the disease. Yet, malaria remains stubbornly prevalent across the globe. Despite the existence of medicine and technologies that can prevent mosquito bites, treat symptoms and vaccinate populations, malaria has been allowed to persist because of human action and inaction.
The decisions made by people in government, in aid agencies, in pharmaceutical companies, in local communities directly influence if, where and how malaria is allowed to travel across the globe, and if, when and how malaria deaths occur. “Bell Tolls” is an attempt to render malaria deaths ‘strange’. I believe that it is a moral technology because it calls attention to preventable death and its representation (statistical or otherwise) in ways that permit ambiguity and avoid didacticism. This technology does not posit a morality, but rather asks of participants to confront their own responses to death, disease and the social world.