Revealing the Socio-Technical Design of Global E-Businesses: A Case of Digital Artists Engaging in Radical Transparency

Revealing the Socio-Technical Design of Global E-Businesses: A Case of Digital Artists Engaging in Radical Transparency

Constance E. Kampf (Aarhus University, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/jskd.2012100102
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Abstract

Global e-businesses such as Google, Amazon and E-bay affect both users and society. How can society begin to understand this duality in the socio-technical affordances of e-business? This paper examines a digital art performance as an example of the tensions between capitalist businesses and the public commons. Using notions of transparency and knowledge as a form of Knowledge Management rooted in Nonaka’s SECI Model, it examines ways in which knowledge about how Google uses the Internet are made explicit through the digital art performance. It discusses the implications for both defining a macro level of socio-technical design and using dimensions of transparency to understand technology based Internet business, positing global Internet business as having two levels of socio-technical design—1) the micro level, dealing with user interaction, and 2) the macro level, dealing with the social design and implications for society inherent in pervasive technology based businesses. The Macro level of design is operationalized through a combination of knowledge management theory and dimensions of transparency.
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2. Understanding Socio-Technical Design On Two Levels—Micro And Macro

In her article about the history of socio-technical design as a field, Mumford (2006) situates the field at the interaction of technology and industry by describing the role of socio-technical design in the co-evolution of technology use and business processes & practices. As she examines future directions for socio-technical design, Mumford points out two key characteristics of the field: 1) Socio-technical design brings a core of user-centered ethics to industry/business practices and processes by looking at the human consequences of technology and 2) the future of both socio-technical design and industry/business are linked to future business paradigms which need to take the social responsibility of industry/business towards people into consideration. Given this strong link articulated between business paradigms and socio-technical design, how can we operationalize a macro-level of socio-technical design that addresses the issue of how technology can drive societal structures?

Although Mumford (2006) criticized a business paradigm based on competition and efficiency and described that as the current state of global capitalism, I contend there is a more nuanced direction for business, which is moving toward social responsibility. The growing field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is in the process of questioning the configuration of responsibility between business, governments and society (Matten & Moon, 2005; Matten & Crane, 2004). CSR has developed in parallel with socio-technical design as a multi-disciplinary field emerging from problems in the workplace with a core focus based in ethics.

In turn, what socio-technical design can add to the conversation is a set of frameworks for understanding the role of technology in connecting business, government and society not only at the micro level which addresses the need of workers, but also at a macro level, which focuses on the interaction between technology and ways in which key societal institutions function. One example of this might be capital investment institutions or financial institutions. Questions of the extent to which technologies disrupt and change the affordances of macro-socio-technical systems such as global finance, need an element of socio-technical design to shape them and subsequent knowledge emerging from their answers.

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