Technology has played an integral role in history, dating back to the farthest documented points in time. Technology is not a foreign part of society, as they have provided the means for social evolution. An often-disputed theory, Technological Determinism, argues that all developed technology’s shape and influence all interactions in society. This theory however, is incomplete in its understanding between the relationship of society and technology, because their relationship is highly interrelated. A more all-encompassing theory to explain this connection is the Social Informatics theory. Through this theory, it views technological development as existing and emerging in close relation with society. Further, this theory also explains the link between both society and technology as one where the two mutually influence one another, as more technologies are integrated into everyday life, they become less of an external force and begin to represent a normality . Social Informatics is a better way of defining the interrelationship of society and technology, because technological determinism is limiting and ignores any social factors. This can be proven through concrete examples of the impact that technological advancement has had on cultural development, the involvement of the government in technology, and the continued emergence of social media. Technology plays a key role in society, and over time its presence has grown, and the theory to explain its relevance must encompass all facets of the relationship with society.
For the people of society, their culture is defined and curated as they have developed a set of normalities. As technology has become more advanced, societal cultures have influenced how the new technologies are integrated into day-to-day lives. It has been argued that technology is essentially an instrument, which individuals do not always know how to use – explaining the delay of adoption for new methods or technologies, otherwise called Cultural Lag. In tandem with cultural adaptation, is has been identified that technology, although usually with great benefit, does not come without cost, as it can be described as a subversive process that closely includes both society and the technological change. Through two tangible examples, the closely intertwined relationship of technology and society and how they mutually affect one, another can be seen, and both will further prove why social informatics is a stronger theory to explain the relationship. The Yir Yoront Australian aboriginals’ highest technological advancement was their stone axe, which in addition to its functional capabilities also represented a key symbol within their society. These axes were symbolic representations of reinforced social standings and were only to be used by men. In future years, a technical advancement came from an outside domain, a steel axe, which when introduced did not have any symbolism or cultural ties, being given to all worthy members in society, not just men . With the dissolution of symbolism related to the axe, it caused immense confusion and upheaval within the Yir Yoront people’s lives . Technological determinism outlines that any technical advancements and developments cause society to change its ways and bend to the development rather than integrate it into existing social normalities. In this example, one may think that it is deterministic, but the reality is that the symbolism of their original axe and their societal culture were so intertwined that it produced a cultural crisis that could not be transcended . An additional example of an advancement that specifically impacted cultural norms is the telephone. In the 1950s, the technical advancements of the phone and the increasing prosperity of society lead to rapid integration of telephone service into American households . Over time, it continued to grow in popularity, and by the 1980s about one third of Americans has a telephone within their home. The social repercussions of the development of the telephone created a new concept of instant response, due to the ringing, but with the subsequent invention of the answering machine, it allows for a delayed response . The creation of the answering machine, reversed the social meaning of the telephone, which leans into the idea that social invention pressures for technical invention, and in this case, the need for a delayed reply lead to the creation of an answering machine. The invention of the telephone is not deterministic, because the industry did not determine the demand for home telephones, and the created technology did not drive its use, it was the people who influenced the telephone’s integration into their day to day based on their needs. Prior to the development of the telephone, people still stayed in contact with one another, but their selected use of the telephone identified ways for them to strengthen their social relationships. This example continues to prove that technological determinism is limited in its explanation as it is unable to identify the social factors that are imbedded in this relationship.
To further identify the limitations of technological determinism, and the strength of the social informatics theory, one must also examine the involvement of the government within the integration of technical advancement in society. There are two significant examples that represent how the government has begun to include themselves within different technological developments. The first example outlines how the government views Internet freedom. As the Internet grows in its importance and continues to become accessible by those in the public, the Western government is consistently pressured to develop a regulatory system for its use . It is well known that the Internet in China is heavily regulated when it comes to censoring the content that the people of their society can view. The American government has been lobbying to give the FBI access to email addresses or browsing history without a court order. All of these regulatory concerns come from the fear of a cyber related war in the near future . Cybercrime is continually growing on the Internet because of the ability for anonymity in this space . The need for monitoring comes from the issues related to the fact that as previously stated, technology is a tool and those exposed to it do not necessarily know it’s particular intended function, and in this case, although the internet is intended for widespread accessibility to information, there are people using it as a weapon. The continued pressure for monitoring this particular technology comes from the view that it is an intertwined piece of humanity’s day-to-day life, with the ease of accessibility it is not deterministic of the way our culture behaves, rather the social needs we require often shape the way we use the technology and integrate it into our day to day. The next example outlines the way that Internet has enabled social uprisings in a way unlike ever before. The Internet as a space is a network that has provided an area for autonomy that allows various social demonstrative movements to materialize in various forms with varying results . The use of the Internet as a platform for these movements is not a form of technological determinism because technology does not regulate these social movements or any social behaviour . Rather, the internet and any subsequent networks can be viewed as organizational platforms for cultural communication and political independence . The Arab Spring is a tangible example of a demonstration that’s groundwork was digital media, additionally; it was the first digitally facilitated political disturbance . The internet is a tool that is utilized in a demonstrative way, proving that it is the way that the people have chosen to use it rather than the technology determining its use, further proving that social informatics better describes the relationship between society and technology. The final analysis further proves the limitations of technological determinism as a theory, and re-confirms the improved way of defining this relationship is through the social informatics theory.
The following analysis outlines the technological advancements in social media, and how they have entangled themselves into everyday interactions. Social media sites create curated streams of content, especially on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which creates an avenue for expression and development of social context . The use of these social media platforms has become an integral role in defined social settings, especially with teens. In society, teens’ define social context loosely around setting, time, and audience, and technology has allowed for its users to quickly shift from one social setting to the next . Social media by no means is deterministic in the way that teens adapted to it; rather, it has become an additional social setting for interaction with one another. To further explain social media as a social setting, a deeper understanding of Facebook can be outlined. Facebook laid the groundwork for other platforms, and the social network service ecosystem through its development of cultural norms for this social construct . Facebook as a technological advancement in social network services is not deterministic, because once the groundwork was developed the users’ opinions, similar to social pressures, are what impact its continued advancements. Social media as a technology is still new in the view of historical technical developments, but it is clear that the people of society play an important role in the use, adoption, and direction of these services. Social informatics theory is relevant to social media’s role in society due to the clear evidence that culture and social factors play a large role in the success and use of this technology.
Technology is not a foreign member of society, as it has continually provided the means for social evolution. Through the analysis completed, the often disputed theory, Technological Determinism, is not adequate in its description of the relationship between society and technology and that the Social Informatics theory provides a more holistic view of the bond between society and technology.