Time to read
, 892 words, 8th grade
Whenever we engage in creating any new thing, we must always keep in mind primum non nocere. This is especially true for new technologies! Thatʼs because technology magnifies power many times over — often with catastrophic consequences.
That Latin phrase, coined by physician Thomas Sydenham, is generally translated as first, do no harm.
Many believe it to be part of the Hippocratic Oath to which doctors swear, although this is not the case. That said, it remains an excellent maxim by which to live and work.
As we rush headlong into the strange new world of “AI,” it might be worth recalling how some of our previous “great ideas” have worked out.
As we have mentioned elsewhere, Paul Virilio nailed it with his idea of the integral accident. Namely, that when we create any new technology, we unavoidably incur negative consequences from it.
Just as the invention of the car begat the automobile accident (millions dead or disabled and counting), each new technology exacts a price. The car also begat suburbs, traffic jams, air pollution and the concomitant disease, and the fracturing of family units.
And a lot of asphalt. Sixteen million hectares in the US alone. Was it worth it?
Television created the couch potato and fostered the simulacrum. Thatʼs a fancy word for the “disinformation society.” The internet put the simulacrum on steroids.
If we are honest with ourselves — and we should always be honest with ourselves — many of our technological “wonders” have lost much of their shine. How is all that plastic working out? Checked human sperm counts lately? What about gene-splicing? Heard about the new genetically-programmed viruses?
There is a reason that this method is the first of the Craft Code methods. The foremost thing we must always ensure is that we do no harm. Look down that road before setting forth! What are we building and why? What price will we pay for our hubris?
So, begin by ensuring that you are building something worth building. Donʼt pretend that you are not culpable for the harm you may do. Ignorance is not innocence.
Then, make it sustainable.
A key aspect of doing no harm is ensuring that our efforts are sustainable. Sustainability is an enormous umbrella. When most of us think sustainability, we think of the biosphere. But the Web Sustainability Guidelines cover much more, such as UX, accessibility, open-source, and DEI.
The Sustainable Web Manifesto lists the six principles of a sustainable web:
- Clean: The services we provide and services we use will be powered by renewable energy.
- Efficient: The products and services we provide will use the least amount of energy and material resources possible.
- Open: The products and services we provide will be accessible, allow for the open exchange of information, and allow users to control their data.
- Honest: The products and services we provide will not mislead or exploit users in their design or content.
- Regenerative: The products and services we provide will support an economy that nourishes people and planet.
- Resilient: The products and services we provide will function in the times and places where people need them most.
If you agree, then you can sign the manifesto (scroll to the bottom). We have.
Sustainability encompasses environmental, social, and governance principles (ESG). Usability, yes, but also findability, performance optimization, and, of course, green hosting.
We will discuss these topics in greater depth in the coming months.
We hear a lot about User Experience (UX) and accessibility (A11y), but too often devs focus on one or the other. The truth is that both fit into a single holistic approach. That approach is Universal Design.
There are eight goals of Universal Design:
- Body fit: accommodate a wide range of body sizes and abilities.
- Comfort: keep demands within desirable limits of body function and perception.
- Awareness: ensure that users can perceive critical information with ease.
- Understanding: make methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous.
- Wellness: contribute to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and protection from hazards.
- Social integration: treat all groups with dignity and respect.
- Personalization: incorporate opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences.
- Cultural appropriateness: respect and reinforce cultural values. Respect also the social and environmental contexts of any design project.
Universal design was first promoted by architects. But its applicability to pretty much everything humans design soon became evident.
It is long past time to apply these principles to web development. The key is to strive for a balanced approach rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul.