On the Steppe

On the Steppe: Plain Talk Imagining Technology Used Wisely

The UW Tech Policy Lab and Value Sensitive Design Lab and the Methow Valley radio station KTRT 97.5 FM “The Root” are pleased to present, On the Steppe, a radio series on designing and using technology wisely. In these conversations, UW Information School Professor Batya Friedman and KTRT Radio Program Manager Don Ashford think about how we shape technology, how technology shapes us, and how we can grow our moral and technical imaginations. Join them in these conversations!


1. We Define Ourselves by the Questions We Ask (16:04)

Asking good questions is hard work. In our first episode, Batya and Don discuss what it means to use technology wisely. Listen while they explore how to think through questions about the present we’re in, the future we want, how we might get from here to there, and what it means for the technology (and world) all around us.

2. Evaluating A Technology: Efficiency Ain’t Enough (18:33)

How can we tell if a technology is working well? From health care, to robots, to tractors – how do we decide if a technical system really incorporates and accounts for what matters most to us? In this episode, hear Don and Batya work through what it means to think about, design, and build technologies with a humane touch.

3. Think Twice it’s Not Alright (16:57)

Where do you keep your family memories? Are they photos in an album, or data in the cloud? What does it have to do with nuclear energy? In this episode, Batya and Don think about what we can learn from past technologies that showed great promise but had a serious downside, in order to make better choices in the future.

4. Virtue And Vice: Personalization (20:31)

Have you ever had a great idea that turned out to be not so great? The technologies all around us make life better in many ways, but difficult in many others. How do we navigate these strengths and weaknesses? Head Don and Batya discuss the potential virtues and vices of different technologies in a world where the stytems we build can be tailored for each individual.


Batya Friedman (left) and Don Ashford (right) in the KTRT radio station recording an episode of On the Steppe.

The Conversationalists

On the Steppe is an on-going collaboration between long-time KTRT 97.5 FM radio manager Don Ashford and established technologist/design researcher from the University of Washington Batya Friedman. Don has lived rurally for 50 years, 36 of those in the Methow Valley, and managed the radio station for 24 years. He has a longstanding curiosity about technology, particularly as it impacts and shapes rural living. Batya is best known in the field of human-computer interaction for her extensive work in Value Sensitive Design and, more recently, multi-lifespan design. She co-directs the Value Sensitive Design Lab and Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington, which has sponsored this project. For the past nine years Batya has been a part-time resident of the Methow Valley.

The OTS Team

Nick Logler is research assistant extraordinaire for On the Steppe. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington Information School where he studies the materiality of information technologies. Elias Greendorfer has created the visual design for On the Steppe. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington Information School where he studies rites of passage.