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Designing a kill-switch

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

A few years ago, I was speaking to a kaumatua about some research I was doing around oral and digital cultures. After some talk, he looked away and said something along the lines of

‘I don’t like this whole approach of taking ancient knowledge and trying to fit it into new containers such as websites. Everything has a lifespan, and these ideas and thoughts of the ancestors do too. Maybe it is time to let them (pieces of oral knowledge/culture) die, maybe it is time to give them the dignity of death.’

This thought stopped me in my tracks, both from sheer surprise, and from how much *sense it made. Do we unnaturally extend the life of ideas and artefacts? What should we be allowing to die? Should we, as I hear the Tibetan Buddhists do with the Bardo Thodol, be preparing ourselves for death?

When old things don’t die, new things don’t have the room grow. In a (human) world where unlimited growth and expansion is understood to be a ‘good’, maybe we need institutions and businesses to gracefully grow old and die.

How do we design services that are relevant, yes, responsive, yes, but also mortal? How do we build in a kill switch? Should we?

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