The social nature of technology the telephone
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The social Nature of Technology: The Telephone. I203 Social and Organizational Issues of Information. Information Systems as Agents. Solving routine information processing Ordering a pizza… Finding information on a specific website…

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The social Nature of Technology: The Telephone

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The social nature of technology the telephone

The social Nature of Technology: The Telephone

I203 Social and Organizational Issues of Information


Information systems as agents

Information Systems as Agents

  • Solving routine information processing

    • Ordering a pizza…

    • Finding information on a specific website…

    • Suggestions based on preference tracking (product brokering)…

2


Personal information brokers

Personal Information Brokers

  • Social network-based information ordering

    • Inbox 2.0, Microsoft’s SNARF

  • Dynamic music DJ’s

    • iTunes, etc

3


Human versus bot foibles

Human versus Bot “foibles”

  • Human

    • Change our minds on the fly

    • Abandon “rules” when it might hinder progress or larger goals

  • Bots

    • Fairly blind to complex social trade-offs and competing goals

    • What is wrong with a price-maximizing and rational bot?

4


Obedience and tacit knowledge in information systems

Obedience and tacit knowledge in information systems

  • Humans may have a specific goal, yet the achievement of this goal may be a product of many different (and seemingly irrational) actions.

  • How does one model such behavior in a bot or other information gathering/processing system– or should we even try?

5


A new problem

A new problem?

  • Bots and other software tools echo machines and industrialization in earlier eras.

    • Doing mundane tasks for humans (printing press, assembly line machines)

    • Representing humans (voicemail, junk mail)

6


Why the telephone

Why the Telephone?

  • An information technology (and communications media) with a well-documented history.

  • A clear example of the interplay between practical technology and social world.

  • Ubiquitous; even without historical accounts we all have an understanding of what it is, what it can be used for, how it has changed.


Society and new technology

Society and New Technology

  • “… to silence these doubters, Bell and Watson planned a most severe test of the telephone. They borrowed the telegraph line between Boston and the Cambridge Observatory, and attached a telephone to each end. Then they maintained, for three hours or longer, the first sustained conversation by telephone, each one taking careful notes of what he said and of what he heard. These notes were published in parallel columns in The Boston Advertiser, October 19, 1876, and proved beyond question that the telephone was now a practical success.” (Herbert Casson, 1910)


The social nature of technology the telephone

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union, internal memo, 1876


Some theories for technological development and change

Some theories for technological development and change

  • Technological Determinism

  • Symptomatic Approach

  • Social Constructivism

Note that we will go into determinism and constructivism in more depth next week– for now we want to understand why Fischer must defend his use of the user heuristic model.


Does society determine technologies or do technologies determine society

Does society determine technologies, or do technologies determine society?

  • The ‘Star Trek’ problem:

11


But seriously

But Seriously…

  • The problem we face is very real in our understanding of technology and information history: Does technology/IT primarily affect society and happen as natural course of development, or are technologies/IT emergent from social processes?

  • Put differently, do technologies develop “under their own immanent logic”?

12


Technological determinism

Technological determinism

  • Technological change comes from outside society as part of an autonomous scientific development

  • Technologies have their own inertia,totally separate from the influences of people.

  • At the extreme, technology causes social change

  • Impact/Imprint

13


Examples of determinism

Examples of Determinism

Lynn White

The invention of the stirrup

led to Feudalism.

See: White, L. Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

“The history of the use of the horse in battle is divided into three periods: first, that of the charioteer; second, that of the mounted warrior who clings to his steed by pressure of the knees; and third, that of the rider equipped with stirrups.”

14


More examples of determinism

More Examples of Determinism

The automobile created suburbia.

See: McShane, C. Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 1995.

15


Consequences of technological determinism

Consequences of Technological Determinism

  • At the Macro level, technology causes social and historical changes.

  • At the Micro level, technology affects social and social-psychological processes as individuals use technology and tools.


Symptomatic approach

Symptomatic Approach

  • Technologies are expressions of culture

  • Technology and material goods are manifestations of Geist

    • Geist: “Indwelling spirit of man; guiding mind or conscious intelligence”

  • Tends to assume homogeneity across various technological developments


Examples of symptomatic approach

Examples of Symptomatic Approach

  • People are tied to new information technologies (i.e. mobile phone, email) and feel lost and lonely without them

  • The train and the automobile are part of American’s expression of freedom and change


Social constructivism

Social Constructivism

  • Struggles and negotiations between different parties shape the history of technological development

  • Innovation and technology is shaped and created by the unique conditions of each society

  • Sort of the logical counter-argument to technological determinism: reality cannot be “discovered” as if its already out there

  • A common argument is that same technology has different forms, histories, and uses in different societies


Examples of social constructivism

Examples of Social Constructivism

  • History of radio frequencies, dependent on social and political structure of various societies (i.e., countries)

  • Development of lights and electricity

  • Peer and collaboration models of learning


The clock as an example

The clock as an example

  • A clock is a device that allows us to standardize our measurement of the concept of time, and relay this information visually/audibly/etc.

    • What would a technological determinist say about the development of the clock?

    • …A proponent of the symptomatic approach to technology?

    • …A social constructivist?


Towards a more inclusive understanding of technology and society

Towards a more inclusive understanding of technology and society

  • We need to ask several questions (Fischer):

    • Why and how do individuals use a particular technology?

    • How did using it alter other (perhaps less immediate) aspects of life?

    • How does the collective use of a technology and the collective responses to it alter social structure and culture?


Telephone as practical

Telephone as Practical

  • Will help families manage household tasks

  • Will help in case of emergency

“Speak directly into the mouthpiece keeping mustache out of the opening.”


The telephone as commonplace

The Telephone as Commonplace

  • By early 1900’s, telephone increasingly common– and expected communication for emergencies.

  • Slowly became a new way for businesses to advertise.

  • Expectations in some businesses (doctors, lawyers, etc) created need for telephones.

    • “externalities” as a consequence of use


Telephone as a social technology

Telephone as a Social Technology

  • …but you could also use the telephone to have personal conversations.

  • A real shift on the part of industry, users, and the technology itself.


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