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Color film was built for white people

In 2015, Vox, a multinational digital media company, released this video that explores a little known history connecting race, film and technology. Until the 1990s, color balance in images was achieved through the use of chemical solutions which developed color once exposed to a particular light. Given the context of the early twentieth century when these technologies were beginning to emerge, American photographic media largely surrounded capturing the best light of white and light complexion individuals. Therefore, chemical solutions were not included that brought out darker complexions or various red, yellow, and brown tones. Today, we can still see certain biases in design defaults that privilege lighter skin.


What is the origin and use of a “Shirley Card”? Why do you think the video begins with this example, and how does it help illustrate an argument about specific consumer markets as well as ideas about representational ideals?

What prompted Kodak to finally change its approach to color balance technology? What industries were behind the change?

What are the potential lasting implications of this type of technology in perpetuating certain norms? Does this example help to explain the way implicit bias can built into design and technology?


Can you think of any other examples (like the HP example in the video) in which technology is biased and not neutral?

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