Cell phones as part of a socio-technical system

When we think of a cell-phone now days, we immediately associate it with different things based on the function and the goal we want to achieve, and it is so much more than just to be able to call someone.

Keeping in mind the media richness theory (sometimes referred to as information richness theory or MRT),  cell phones now days are designed to offer different options and are able to reproduce visual social cues, such as gestures, body language through the video option. This translates to a richer communication medium, that has become part of our society.

It is important to understand that these affordances ( as Zhang explains the term) are available because they were designed, using modular and combinatorial design principles, as Dr. Irvine explains, that takes a lot of iterations in order to come up with a product that is both functional and practical.

But because we don’t see the different layers, this becomes a complex idea, and it is hard to understand each part and see how they fit in the whole product.

After we “de-blackbox” this technology, it is also important to understand that this artifact is part of a socio-technical system.

When talking about socio-technical system, we talk about the interaction of people and the technology in an environment.

So, let’s break it up a little more and see these interactions.

(image source: https://skateboardingalice.com/papers/2010_Rogers_Fisk/create_model_small.png)

So now, we can think of the technological features of a cell phone, the tasks that it can accomplish, how we interact with the technology itself, and how the technology is used in the environment.


Latour, Bruno “On Technical Mediation.” Common Knowledge 3, no. 2 (1994): 29-64.

Irvine, Martin “Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Artefacts: Methods for De-Blackboxing” (introductory essay)

Zhang, Jiahie and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.