Socio-technical systems use the social sciences in their design as HCI interfaces use psychology. STS is not part of HCI, nor is sociology part of psychology, because a society is more than the people in it; e. East and West Germany, with similar people, performed differently as communities, as do North and South Korea today.
A society is not just a set of people. People who gather to view an event or customers shopping for bargains are an aggregate, not a community.
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They only become a community if they see themselves as one, i. Social systems can have a physical base or a technical base, so a socio-physical system is people socializing by physical means. Face-to-face friendships cross seamlessly to Facebook because the social level persists across physical and electronic architecture bases. Whether electronically or physically mediated, a social system is always people interacting with people. Online communities work through people, who work through software that works through hardware. While sociology studies the social level alone, socio-technical design studies how social, human, information and hardware levels interact.
A sociologist can no more design socio-technologies than a psychologist can design human-computer interfaces. The complexity of modern computing arises from its discipline promiscuity Figure 1. Before going on, we review the opposing theory of reductionism, which states that there is only one level, namely the physical level, and so everything can reduce to it. How has this worked in science? The reductionist dream is based on logical positivism footnote 12 , the idea that only the physical exists so all science must be expressed in physical terms.
A message physically fixed in one way has by this definition zero information because the other ways it could have been fixed do not exist physically footnote It is logically true that hieroglyphics that cannot be read contain in themselves no information at all. If reader choices generate information, the data in a physical signal is unknown until it is deciphered.
Data compression fits the same data in a physically smaller signal by encoding it more efficiently. It could not do this if information was fully defined by the physical message. The physical level is necessary for the information level but it is not sufficient.
Conversely, information does not exist physically, as it cannot be touched or seen. So if the encoding is unknown, the information is undefined; e. The information a message conveys depends on the decoding process; e. One response to reductionism is mathematical realism, that mathematical laws are real even if they are not concrete Penrose, Mathematics is a science because its constructs are logically correct, not because they are physical.
That an equation is later physically useful is not the cause of its reality. Reality is now a consensual construct, with physicality just one option. The acceptance of mathematical and cognitive constructs does not deny science, because science only requires that theory constructs be validated empirically, i. For example, fear as a cognitive construct can be measured by heart rate, pupil dilation, blood pressure, a questionnaire, etc.
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Even physics cannot reduce its theories to pure physicality, as quantum theory implies a primordial non-physical footnote 15 quantum level of reality below the physical Whitworth, In physics, reductionism gave a clockwork universe where each state perfectly defined the next, as in a computer. Quantum physics flatly denied this, as random quantum events by definition are explained by no physical history.
The quantum world cannot be reduced to physical events footnote Either quantum theory is wrong, or reductionism does not work. If all science were physical, all science would be physics, which it is not. A reductionist philosophy that has failed in science in general is hardly a good base for a computing model.
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If the physical level were sufficient alone, there would be no choices and so no information, i. Levels return the observer to science, as quantum theory's paradoxes demand. Currently, sociology sees individuals as conduits of meaning that reflect external social structures , and so psychological, biological, and physical views are the faulty reductionism of social realities. In this social determinism , society writes social agendas, such as communism or capitalism, upon individual tabulae rasae blank slates.
Yet this just replaces the determinism of fields like biology Wilson, and psychology Skinner, by another form of determinism.
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By contrast, in the general system model of computing shown in Figure 1. So if all individual thoughts were erased, society would also cease to exist as surely as if all its citizens had vanished physically. Sociology assumes psychology, which has led to attempts to re-attach it to its psychological roots, e. The top-down return of sociology to its source matches an equally vibrant bottom-up movement in computing, which has long seen itself as more than hardware and software Boulding, The evolution of computing implies a requirements hierarchy Figure 1.
If the hardware works, then software becomes the priority; if the software works, then user needs become important; and if user needs are fulfilled, then social requirements arise. As one level's issues are met, those of the next appear, just as climbing one hill reveals another. As hardware over-heating problems are solved, software data locking problems arise. As software response times improve, user response times become the issue. Companies like Google and E-bay still seek customer satisfaction, but customers in crowds also have community needs like fairness, i.
In general, the highest system level defines its success ; e. If no community forms, it does not matter how easy to use, fast or reliable the software is. Lower levels become necessary to avoid failure but not sufficient to define success. Conversely, any level can cause failure; it does not matter how strong the community is if the hardware fails, the software crashes or the interface is unusable.
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An STS fails if its hardware fails, if its program crashes or if users cannot figure it out. Hardware, software, personal and community failures are all computing errors Table 1. The common feature is that the system fails to perform and in evolution what does not perform, does not survive footnote Computing as technology fails for technical reasons but, as socio-technology, also fails for social reasons.
Technology is hard, but society is soft. That the soft should direct the hard seems counter-intuitive, but trees grow at their soft tips more than at their hard base. As a tree trunk does not direct its expanding canopy, so today's social computing advances were undreamt of by its engineering base. This gives us a variety of design fields, as seen below. Multi-disciplinary fields cannot, by their nature, be reduced to component discipline specialties; e.
Higher levels direct lower ones to improve system performance. Levels cumulate, so the requirements of each level flow down to those below, e. The same applies online, as online communities make demands of Netizens footnote 21 as well as software. STS design therefore is about having it all: reliable devices, efficient code, intuitive interfaces and sustainable communities.
Note that the social level is open ended, as social groups form higher social groups, e. How social units combine into higher social units footnote 22 with new requirements is discussed further in Chapter 5. So it is naive to think that friend systems like Facebook are the last step, that social computing will stop at a social unit size of two. Beyond friends are tribes, cities, city-states, nations and meta-nations like the USA. Since we have a friend but belong to a community, the rules also change.
With the world population at seven billion and growing, Facebook's over million active accounts are just the beginning. The future is computer support not just for friends, but also for families, tribes, nations and even global humanity. For example, imagine a group browser, designed for many not just one, so that people can browse the Internet in groups, discussing as they go.
Instead of a physical tour bus there is an informational tour browser. Or members could take turns to host the next site, showing what they like. The possibilities of social computing are just beginning. Figure 1. At each stage, a new specialty joined computing, but pure engineers still see only mechanics, pure computer scientists only information, pure psychologists only human constructs, and pure sociologists only social structures.
Yet the multi-discipline of computing as a whole is not pure, because purity is not the future.
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It is more akin to a bazaar than a cathedral, as computer practitioners understand Raymond, Like medieval fiefdoms, they hold hostage knowledge that by its nature should be free. The divide and conquer approach of reductionism does not allow computing to prosper as an academic multi-discipline. In practice, however, computing is thriving. Every day more people use computers to do more things in more ways, so engineering, computer science, health footnote 24 , business, psychology, mathematics and education compete for the computing crown footnote The kingdom of research into computing is weak because it is a realm divided.
It will get weaker if music, art, journalism, architecture etc. Computing researchers are scattered over the academic landscape like the tribes of Israel, some in engineering, some in computer science, some in health, etc. Yet we are one. The flower of computing is the fruit of many disciplines but it belongs to none. It is a new multi-discipline in itself Figure 1.
For it to bear research fruit, its discipline parents must release it. Using different terms, models and theories for the same subject just invites confusion. Universities that compartmentalize computing research into isolated discipline groups deny its multi-disciplinary future.