[2010.08850] Against Scale: Provocations and Resistances to Scale Thinking

At the heart of what drives the bulk of innovation and activity in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is scalability. This unwavering commitment to scalability -- to identify strategies for efficient growth -- is at the heart of what we refer to as "scale thinking." Whether people are aware of it or not, scale thinking is all-encompassing. It is not just an attribute of one's product, service, or company, but frames how one thinks about the world (what constitutes it and how it can be observed and measured), its problems (what is a problem worth solving versus not), and the possible technological fixes for those problems. This paper examines different facets of scale thinking and its implication on how we view technology and collaborative work. We argue that technological solutions grounded in scale thinking are unlikely to be as liberatory or effective at deep, systemic change as their purveyors imagine. Rather, solutions which resist scale thinking are necessary to undo the social structures which lie at the heart of social inequality. We draw on recent work on mutual aid networks and propose questions to ask of collaborative work systems as a means to evaluate technological solutions and guide designers in identifying sites of resistance to scale thinking.