Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Today's simplistic glorification of design and "The Burnout Society"

I am reading the book "The Burnout Society" by Byung-Chul Han. It is a very short book, only about 50 pages. Han is a Korean-born philosopher, now active in Germany. He has published a series of short books. 

I read this book as a serious critique of our modern society which Han gives different names, for instant 'the achievement society'. He argues that modern society has developed a culture where we believe we can do anything, “yes, we can”, where we are measured based on our achievements. He makes the case that people get sick and depressed not because they are burdened by what he calls disciplinary responsibility "but the imperative to achieve: the new commandment of late-modern labor society". People get burnout because of "creative fatigue and exhausted ability". We suffer from the "violence of positivity” that “does not deprive, it saturates; it does not exclude, it exhausts.” Han argues that we need more 'negativity', we need more "deep, contemplative attention", that is, less achieving and more reflection and to reach this we need "profound boredom" (p.12).
I find this book fascinating, even though I only read a few chapters, am looking forward to the rest. So, what does this have to do with design and the philosophy of design. Well, it is obvious to me that the character of the modern society that Han critiques includes the qualities that are commonly revered by those who advocate design, such as the ideas to design artifacts and systems that improves our ability to "do things" quicker, more effortless, removed from the restrictions of time, place and community. Designers commonly desire the creations of designs that are engaging, exciting, and positive. Almost everything that is part of today's simplistic glorification of design as the solution to every problem is based a philosophy that resembles what Han is critiquing in his book. I find this extraordinary refreshing and highly needed.


1 comment:

Jordan Beck said...

This sounds really good and it resonates with a text I was reading yesterday called "Wisdom, Information, and Wonder: What is Knowledge For?" by Mary Midgley. In the first part Midgley characterizes modern-day (though this was written in 1989...) scientists as "tending to say little about contemplation and also to exalt discovery over knowledge." She goes on to quote E.O. Wilson, writing in Biophilia, about how "Scientists do not discover in order to know; they know in order to discover... No one rewards a scientist for what he knows. Nobel prizes and other trophies are bestowed for the new facts and theories..." (p. 15)