Wk 9: Society & Tech

iLecture: Kate (@oceanpark)
Society Tech and Facebook. Deals with Social Construction. The impact of society on tech via facebook. The Internet has drastically changed how we [insert here] about society. In this unit we argue that this statement is a over-simplification of relationship between society and technology. we call this Technological determinism.

  • Social, economic and cultural factors have little or no role
  • Things would have turned out this way no matter what.

Karl Marx was a technological determinist. “The Windmill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist”

Technology is neutral, it’s apolitical. Weapons are no good or bad, it’s how we use them. You can see this argument in the development of nuclear weapons. (read from Polaris to Trident by Graham Spinardi).

Technology is not shaped by ideals, society or goals – it’s just pure science. What’s the problem with this thinking?

  • it’s inaccurate. prevents us from seeing social, cultural, political or economic impacts on tech
  • takes away some of our responsibilty
  • outdated among theorists

Langdon Winner’s Do Artifacts have Politics? disproves this. Robert Moses was a yank architect who designed bridges low to prevent lower class ppl who ride buses couldn’t enter.

Social Shaping of Technology:

  • breaking open the black box of technology
  • [render] the social processes of innovation problematic (What is the social shaping of technology)
  • There are choices

Social Construction (opposite of Tech Determinism)

  • Behaviours, beliefs concepts constructed by societies
  • Gender roles are not biological facts, but created by society (and could have evolved very differently)

Social forces and the Internet mutually affect each other. A brief history of Facebook. to understand it in a nuanced way.

Founded by Mark Zuckerberg in Harvard dorm room in 2004. 24 year old CEO. Co-founders: Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Huges, Eduardo Waverin and Andrew McCollum.

Some claim he stole it.

Thefacebook in 2004.

  • Only for harvard students.
  • insanely addictive. 1200 users in first 24 hours, half of al harvard undergrads in a month
  • Very basic, pokes, profiles and networks
  • Student only ‘safe space’
  • data ephermeral
  • real identities, when not common at the time
  • bait and switch

Started a culture of sharing. continued a culture of authenticity.

Revenue Model:

  • advertising, per click or per impression,
  • Data Mining, target advertising, Beacon
  • Value based on high amount of accurate, up to date personal information

So if the design of Facebook is shaped by these economic factors, what does it mean for our privacy?

Clay Shirky: Internet Theorist. (switched on youtube) fb is defaulting to public and letting you make it private. “if somehow as a society we don’t carve out some space for documented personal action that’s okay, then we really have robbed young people of something they won’t even know they are missing because they never leave the net of  survelliance.”

Impact on Privacy:

  • Closed to Open
  • Default is set to share (no way to prevent photo tagging before its happened)
  • Context collision/collapse (profile needs to appeal to diff audiences)
  • Hard to delete accounts (lose data)
  • Questionable ToS

These are choices FB have made because it helps them to make money. So we have a new conception of privacy. Privacy become ‘social’ rather than ‘institutional’. The ideology is changing how we look at privacy. If not worried about privacy, we will give more info onto FB. If we are concerned, we will offer less. The more data, the more money FB makes.

Profit orientation (economics) shapes the design of Facebook, which in turn shapes our understanding of privacy (cultural/social factor) which in turns shapes future developments of Facebook.

Communication: “…technologies are not neutral, but are fostered by groups to preserve or alter social relations (Hard 1993); they are ‘politics pursued by other means’ (Latour, 1988).  Fb is trying to alter our social relationships.


Tutorial: with reference to Facebook, an online game, or any other Internet application or technology, look into how the developers and users negotiate its development:

Are there examples of the developers and the users disagreeing with some change or other? What was the outcome of these?

Have the people using the application found uses that the developers may not have anticipated?


There have been many occasions when Facebook developers and users have disagreed on its Terms of Service. On some occasions it has given into users’ demands, and also when it hasn’t. Particularly in terms of privacy, Facebook has had an evolving status in regard to its Terms of Service.  I think that this evolution means that more applications are being added to FB using it’s APIs than anticipated by the developers. Including Chat rooms, send free SMS’s, surveys, make money by clicking on this reward link etc, selling virtual money for real money.

Online Discussion: Langdon Winner, asks, in the title of his influential book chapter, “Do artefacts have politics?” He suggests in response: “What matters is not technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded” (1986 , p.1). How true is this, in your experience, and through studying this unit?


Robin Hansen wrote this on Blackboard:

Technology and Society by An Nguyen,

Is Technology dictating the way we choose to access our news coverage?

Nguyen’s article says there is a fear that the Internet is going to change the way traditional media supplies us with news content and that in particular we may think that newspapers may be at the end of their time. He states that the Internet is just one in a long series of technology events.

He presents some interesting historical views on various communication technologies on how news has been delivered over the last 160 years. He includes the pony express, the telegraph, telephone and fax machine. He argues the term “online” goes back to the early days of the telephone when people stated “I’m on (the) line”. He also states “despite its seemingly sudden emergence, consumer online news services, like any other news form, have been evolving through a number of social forms for more than 160 years.”

Whether you wish to debate the term “online” as being only applicable to the Internet or not is not the issue.

Nguyen mentions various technologies that came and went quite quickly, for example telegraphic news services, which delivered “a source of news about stock quotes, gold prices and other trade events for 800 bankers” and then the faxed newspaper in 1934. “Fax newspapers met with failure due to many reasons including poor transmission quality, the unpopularity of fax machines and limited transferable content.”

These examples do demonstrate however, just how different the Internet is in delivering news and everything else.

How many citizens had access to the telegraph system? It was usually only some sort of emergency or tragedy that prompted the issue of a telegram for most. How many had a fax machine back in 1930? Even the telephone was quite a luxury until after WWII. Plus news items really only catered to an adult audience until just a few years ago. Today teenagers are a lot more informed than their parents probably were at the same age.

Newspapers have not been put out of business by the Internet, nor has radio or television. Most people I know watch the 6pm or 7pm news on TV. Talk back radio is very popular and probably far more people listen to those programs rather than go online and blog.

The Internet has provided just another choice to access information. So the argument that technology has driven society here is just not true. As Nguyen points out in his summary “something technically feasible does not always mean that it will be socially accepted and/or demanded.”


Helen Willis wrote this:

Whether, as Slater argues (2002, pp. 533-534), the Internet is a tool or a space, neither is intrinsically political, but may be invested with political symbolism for political ends; most recently Google confronted China’s ruling body for subverting their technology for political ends.  Social and economic systems, as products of prevailing political ideologies, naturally influence the acceptance, use and development of new technology. Technology symbolizes ideas; Hitler burnt books and modern art because of the ‘degenerate’ ideas they embodied.

Winner, writing in 1986, saw technology only as physical manifestations – bridges, bombs, power stations, the possession of which ultimately inferred military power on the possessor, an attitude remnant from the war. The internet is a post-modern technology, a product ideally suited to “holding the paradoxes and contradictions we experience in our daily lives in creative tension, recognizing truths which may appear to cancel each other out …[where] notions such as right and wrong, truth, objectivity, become positional statements … Truth may be relative, but it is still relevant.” (Green L. , 2002 , pp. 13-14). Unlike the concrete bridges of Robert Moses, monuments to a pre-defined function, its architecture is mutable, fleeting and responsive. This sacrifice of determinism is why the internet flourishes despite uncertainty in privacy, security, intellectual rights and copyright issues.

This article by Winner recalls a more recent prediction by Matt Gallivan considering the evolution of social tolerance on the Internet (Anderson & Rainie, 2008): “People are people are people. And people are terrible”. The consensus among experts regarding the new technology of the Internet in the above research predict “global corporations and governments currently in control of most resources might impede or even halt the open development if the internet”.

I think the definition of power is the issue, in the post-modern world, where once military was synonymous with power, now its economic advantage that matters?

Claudine Barker replied with

Just off the top of my head I remember reading the apranet was the being of internet technology  developed by researchers working for military power development groups. Just like bridges and power stations, the Internet has been incorporated into society but its birth was part of military power.I thinks its a combination of both. The IMF use companies like Bechtel to help impoverished nations out there seems to be an overlap in economics and power, I’ve pasted an excerpt from an article I have called Wired for War: Military Technology and the Politics of Fearits from the sage database so you should be able to access it.

The war on terror was to prove an effective cover for a surge in new US bases, particularly in central Asia and eastern Europe, bringing the world total to around a thousand. 10 RMA also implied a militarisation of space and ‘cyberspace’. For the neo-conservatives, both were regarded as important new ‘battlefields’.Control of space assumed a high priority for the US military partly because of its increasing dependence on satellites – which were now being used for directing bombs and navigating tanks as much as straightforward communication and surveillance. Rival satellite systems such as Europe’s Galileo commercial positioning system were viewed with suspicion.11 For PNAC, ‘space-power’ would be to the twenty-first century what sea-power was to the nineteenth: ‘an ‘‘international commons’’ where commercial and security interests are intertwined and related’.12 Indeed, ‘space dominance’ would require a new department in the Pentagon, the US ‘space forces’. George W. Bush’s revival of interest in space exploration must be seen in this context. Similarly, the internet came to be thought of as a potential military target and asset, rather than just a civilian communications technology.

The threat of ‘cyber-terrorism’ – in which terrorists are imagined launching computer virus attacks or gaining remote access to computers in nuclear power stations, dams or air traffic control – was used to justify increasing expenditure on Department of Defense IT security programmes and growing pressure for military surveillance of civilian internet use. It mattered little that the idea of computerised attacks on America was pure invention; facilities like nuclear  installations and air traffic control are not connected to external computer networks for obvious reasons. What mattered more was the need to turn the internet into a secure environment for private corporations, as well as the US military’s need to justify an expensive ‘computerisation’ of its forces.

Another aspect of the new style of war was the drive to privatisation: a result of the increasing reliance on corporate IT expertise and the need to find ways of doing more for less. Where once private corporations were involved only in supplying military hardware, now the Pentagon discovered the benefits of outsourcing entire services to the private sector – a potential boon for corporations close to the White House, like Halliburton and Bechtel. Many of the auxiliary services involved in running military bases, such as cleaning, catering and security, were already contracted out.

Enjoy the read and let me know what you think?



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