The Social Derivation of Technical Systems

The Social Derivation of Technical Systems

David Davenport (Bilkent University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch004
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This chapter analyses the effect that social values have on the design of technical systems. Beginning with an examination of the role technology and accountability play in maintaining social order, it introduces the term “technology creep” to describe situations where conflicting viewpoints produce a technological arms race. Technology functioning in a social-order role inevitably supports one or other of the opposing views, so each side naturally uses it in an attempt to gain the advantage. Peace can be restored only by understanding the social dimensions of the conflict and finding a way of resolving them that is fair to all. The hotly debated issues of anonymity and copyright on the Internet are explored to illustrate this analysis, which, if correct, suggests that designers should consider not only a product’s functionality, safety, its effect on the environment and users, but also non-users, especially those with different values. Awareness of the interplay between the social and technical realms will help optimize future socio-technical systems.
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On The Roles Of Technology In Society

If science is about understanding the functioning of the physical and social worlds, then technology is the application of this scientific knowledge to ease and enrich our lives. While it is well known that technology can sometimes have unexpected and undesirable consequences, and that its progress is difficult to predict, here the focus is specifically on cases involving technologies developed by groups with opposing values. To make sense of such situations, it is necessary to have some understanding of how society itself functions and manages the causes of conflict.

For the purposes of this chapter, take society to be a collection of individuals with a set of “rules” that govern their interactions. The individuals that comprise a society may change over time (as people are born and die, or as people join and leave the group); the rules, however, are founded on fundamental cultural values and while these will inevitably change, the change is likely to be much slower, perhaps almost imperceptible.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accountability: The ability to hold a person responsible for their actions, allowing them to be questioned, restrained or punished.

Socio-Technical Systems Design: An approach to design that explicitly recognises technology’s symbiotic relationship with society, and so tries to involve end-users in the creation of the technical products that will affect their lives.

Anonymous: Namelessness; an agent who is “unnamed/unknown” (that is, an agent who cannot be identified in such a way as to be held accountable); also referring to the creations and acts of creation, of such an agent.

Traceable: The ability to establish a causal link between the source and destination of a communication.

Spoof: To provide false information so as to fool a system and so render it useless.

Technology Creep: The “arms race” that develops in situations where groups having opposing social values try to make use of technology to enforce their views.

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