Sunday, January 19, 2003


Adam Greenfield on The Age of Social Machines. "There's something a bunch of us have been hovering around for a while but nobody's come right out and said it... And [then] it hit me, like a shot, that when you strip away the screen of mystification that we all deploy to a greater or lesser extent, every single thing I ask this machine to do on a regular basis is at root social."

Yup. Pretty much. This isn't banal, but it is mundane and easily taken for granted.

As a social researcher, I just assume that pretty much everything is "at root social." I'm even one of those researchers that thinks that objects (like computers) are social, although in different ways than people are social. And this is why I think that anthropological and sociological contributions to discussions of social computing and its design are important. Without corresponding and compatible understandings of what it means to be social or sociable, I'm pretty sure that new technologies will fail to meet our dreams and expectations.

So where can we start?

First, I don't get this notion that's often repeated of groups-of-at-least-three. It's unnecessary to be so limiting and reductive. As soon as we engage the world around us, we have entered into a social relationship. And social relationships are always already spatial, temporal and material.

I scanned some of my notes that outline the idea of the human/computer as social actor. The human/computer does not represent - it performs. As such, it is desirable to design for flow and emergence, to create ways in which sociability can be negotiated between human(s)/computer(s). Designing for sociability requires understanding and articulating social meanings and implications around scalability, adaptability and accountability. And I'm working on that.

Note: I think that these points become more or less relevant according to the degree that sociability is desired or required. Certainly, the design and evaluation of any type of human-computer interaction can, and does, benefit from the inclusion of social factors. But the design of social software, specifically, requires more precision understandings and applications of these ideas.


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