In my article, I explore how a crisis of consciousness is diminishing our ability to connect with the world. As a designer, I propose reclaiming humanity by focusing on conviviality and eutrapelia, emphasizing the role of design in restoring curiosity, mindfulness, and meaningful connections in a digitally dominated world.
In my exploration, I delve into the impact of a crisis of consciousness on our connection with the world. We find ourselves prioritizing knowledge over sensing, leading to reduced empathy and care. This article serves as a call to designers, urging them to reclaim humanity by fostering conviviality and eutrapelia in the face of this crisis.
Why is it a Design Problem?
You may wonder why someone like me, trained in design and design research, presents a highly philosophical perspective outside the commonly understood domain of expertise in design. Let me first clarify my viewpoint on the commonly understood domain of design.
Wikipedia defines design as the “process of creating a plan or arrangement for the construction of an object, system, or measurable human interaction, often with the aim of solving a problem or achieving a specific goal.” ChatGPT defines design as the “thoughtful and intentional process of creating or shaping something, often with a focus on functionality, aesthetics, and problem-solving.” Leonard Bruce Archer, a champion of design research, defined two requirements for design: a prior formulation of a prescription or model and the hope or expectation of ultimate embodiment as an artifact. These definitions refer to the conventional understanding of design as a problem-solving process with an artifact as an outcome. I believe the scope of design has grown beyond form-giving and creating conveniences.
Late Prof M. P. Ranjan’s broad definition aligns more with my evolved thinking. Ranjan suggests,
“Design is like a potent seed that can grow if nurtured by society and through collaborative processes can produce significant change in the world.”
I build on Prof Ranjan’s vision to propose that designers’ opportunity is to serve as cultivators of social imagination and facilitators of participatory mindsets in communities. The ultimate objective is to aid in the creation of a convivial society.
Cultivating Conviviality and Eutrapelia
To explain my understanding of conviviality, I would like to quote Ivan Illich from his book Tools for Conviviality. He states, “People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others.” In thinking about tools, Illich was contemplating an ideal society and a framework for living with meaning and virtue. In coining the term conviviality, Illich was influenced by the concept of eutrapelia first introduced by Aristotle, which refers to the importance of relaxation, humor, and leisure in human life. Eutrapelia is related to playfulness and good-natured fun, the simple joy that enlivens company and warms the heart. It’s also referred to as the virtue of playfulness in moderation.
I propose that while economists focus on profits and prosperity, lawyers on justice, social scientists on social capital, and technologists on disruptive innovations, designers can focus on cultivating conviviality and eutrapelia.
The Role of Design
We live in a world where mindfulness is replaced by mindless indulgence. We are fast losing our capacity to observe and learn from our surroundings in favor of a tunnel vision focused on the consumption of memes fed to us on digital screens. Even when we cross busy streets, we focus on handheld screens, oblivious to the presence of rich stimuli in our surroundings.
We prefer to listen to music on our headphones when we go out jogging in the park instead of listening to the chirping of the birds. We seek only what our preset intentions take us to and deprive ourselves of serendipitous encounters. We even consider paying attention to nothing a cognitive overload and let digital agents curate our everyday experiences. Indeed, we are faced with a crisis of consciousness. This is where designers have an opportunity: to restore curiosity and humanity in humans.
More about the Opportunity
Designers who still retain our human sensitivities and have not surrendered them to market forces or to the technology-driven enslavement of the mind can serve as the sherpas to alternate paths to the future driven by the principles of conviviality and eutrapelia.
We can help explore the space Aristotle describes as the ‘golden mean’ or a state of excellence that lies midway between two extremes: excess and deficiency. We can help nurture, in the social imagination, a picture of a society where our actions and choices are driven by caring, sharing, and co-creating. We can guide people to harness their innate curiosity and become open to serendipitous encounters in the real world. We can form alliances dedicated to bringing appreciation for the rich potential of harnessing diversity and embracing inclusive mindsets.
Designers have the tools to develop narratives and inspire actions that can bring more joy, mindfulness, and humor into the world.