Category Archives: Week 5

Mediation as a concept

In terms of “agency”, the media has this in spades. It has affected technology in numerous ways, it has not just been a receiver of innovation but a catalyst to change. Media, as a dynamic and evolving entity, has been present throughout history as a form and agent of communication, research, translation, representation, etc. It is one that has benefitted from interconnected systems and the interaction between systems. Media in its many mediums has always existed prior to the ideas it helped to push. This is explained in Debray’s work: “The object of transmission does not preexist the mechanism of its transmission. The downstream constitutes the upstream.”

Furthermore, if we link our findings on Media, to that of sociotechnical systems, there are many possibilities for analysis when exploring how artifacts and mediums inform one and other. Technical artifacts and social artifacts are usually separated, despite the fact that one could not exist without the other. While they perform various different functions, they are all inherently interdependent, a common thread throughout this course.

If we are to be leaders in design, we must link our understandings of media and computing technologies as partners of change, not separate entities which merely communicate with one and other. One could argue that without the idea of speaking to someone in order to get a service (be it ordering food, buying clothing etc.) the whole concept of Uber wouldn’t be around. It is an exaggerated form of communication that almost hides the basic sociological systems present in human life. As Latour says: “Does that mean that technologies mediate action? No, because we have ourselves become instruments for no other end than instrumentality itself.”

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Bruno Latour, “On Technical Mediation,” as re-edited with title, “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.

Refuting the “technology vs. society/culture” dualism

Jun Nie

The separation of technology and social/culture is not conducive to their development, because a wrong category and evaluation will lead to nothing. In my opinion, only by placing technology and social/culture in the same interconnected and coordinated system can we clarify the relationship between them better.

In a system view, a task is made up of people and the tools they use. People will improve their cognitive abilities constantly in the process of using tools to complete the task, and a complex relation among people, tools and task will be built. Therefore, it’s unreasonable to blame the killing on people or guns separately, because there is a complex system among people, guns and shooting. At the moment when a person holds a gun, his essence, personalities and competences are fundamentally changed because of the tools or technology in his hands. However, as a weapon that can be used for shooting, which is held in the hand of a person, the gun turns into an internal relationship of the system from an pure object. The will and connotation of people and the gun affect each other, which constitutes the important meaning of “mediation”.

The formation of culture or social phenomenon is not directly caused by a person or a certain kind of technology, because the responsibility should be shared by countless subjects with motivation and consciousness, under the help of technology & device that combined with several modules and components. Ocean university of China, for example, has set up a “maker space” in recent years (similar to our maker hub), introducing advanced equipment such as 3D printers and laser engraving machines. If these machines are just placed in a space, nothing will change, but with the aid of the equipment, students can practise their ideas, and the school can invite technical staves to lecture. As a result, the interaction between teachers, students and technology will build up a strong creative atmosphere for the whole campus. Specifically, students’ innovative consciousness will be stimulated, teachers can also pay more attention to quality education, and the school will intend to update the academic assessments. These achievements are all due to the intervention of technology, which forms a new system among different actors. Therefore, the dualism of technology and social/culture is arbitrary, because it ignores the internal connections and essence of them.

When we look at a technology product, we should visualize multiple dimensions within the relationship. On the one hand, we should analyze the modules and implemented design principles inside a black box. On the other hand, the device serves as an interface that leads us to an invisible socio-technical system, where co-operating agencies, networks and structures provide great technical support. In other words, every visible and tangible black box is supported by an invisible network. Technological products should be understood from the past, now and the future. Their modern existence derive from multiple histories of innovation, and they are epitomes of different media evolutions. Nowadays, it works as a “interface”, revealing the complexity of an invisible socio-technical system. Besides, it will become an important part of the new technology and new system as a whole in the future. Only by thinking in this way can we uncover the clock of the black box, transforming from a passive and even fooled consumer to a technology master who can have an independent voice in the design process.

Reference:
Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”
Bruno Latour, “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.
Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.

The Sociotechnical Mediation System of TikTok

Xiebingqing Bai

After reading materials of this week, I could put the technical artifact into an interdependent system, where the underlying medium function, the specific technical artifacts and social, cultural, political forces interwine and interplay with each other. If we look into our phone, we can find out almost every app is a combinational technology, especially those featuring strong media function. TikTok is a great example for sociotechnical system. As an app mainly designed for sharing short videos, it serves as an interface mediating both the underlying medium and the forces of culture, society, market, industry and institution. Firstly, as a type of pre-existing medium, video mediates perfectly with this app. Neil Postman said one underlying feature of video is its fragmented and entertainment tendency, which is exactly the function TikTok is designed for. TikTok is a social media video app for creating and sharing short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos, which only allow for at most 15-second length. The affordances of this time duration are inclined to create interesting, virus and relatively simple videos rather than something intellectual and informed. Thereby the videos posting on TikTok are just fractions of a whole narrative with attractive audiovisual effects. In this way the design intention perfectly accords with the video medium function and its interface.

Besides mediating with its medium function, TikTok also mediates with a broader system. When it comes to social forces, the app has spawned numerous viral trends and internet celebrities, and propelled many grassroots songs to fame. And the proliferation of those trends and songs could in turn promote more people to use this app. And TikTok also has the function of social media, catering to the needs of consumers to socialize with friends and strangers by recording their lifestyles. Gradually the social atmosphere of accentuating appearances has been intensified, especially among young girls. As for the mediation with economy and market, the advent of TikTok truly animated Chinese short video industry, which resulted in plenty of other emerging apps similar to it, thus engendering a competition situation in the market. And this competition again prompted TikTok to modify itself. Plus, one interesting phenomenon now in China is some music companies mainly producing viral songs targeting at TikTok just emerge in recent years, which produce catchy music merely through immediate monitoring system to capture the hot topics and keywords instead of making artistic endeavors. Those companies provide upstream content for TikTok, thus an ecosystem has been formed. In this ecosystem, TikTok is a central content platform while other music companies and companies for incubating Internet celebrities serve as upstream providers. Through this example, we can see how technical artifacts mediates in a larger sociotechnical system.

References:

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

False Claims or Predictions?

After putting “technology effects” in the google search bar, as always, the algorithm-based results popped up on my page. As I skimmed through the titles, most accused the modern technologies of the detrimental effects they have on human society and humanity, while some moderately pointed out that people should be aware of the negative effects of media technologies despite the positivity they brought about. Judged from the information enabled and presented by modern technologies, one could be easily led into the dreadful thoughts that humanity is to be destroyed or at least severely damaged by the technologies we invented and human intelligence will soon be the biggest victim of its own success.

On this single note, there seems to exist prevailing opinions that, the societal problems are largely doomed by the emergence and rapid growth of technology. This school of criticism predicates three assumptions as far as can be superficially implied: (1) modern technology is an independent antithesis of the human society, (2) technology has gained absolute power that overrides human culture, (3) mediations of media were designed to enhance humanity.

For starters, to see technology as the antithesis of human risks the stake of isolating technology from the context of humanity. Instead, the term “technology effects” only makes sense within the environment of human culture. As Dr. Irvine articulated in the intro video, technologies should not be perceived as an autonomous force for obvious reasons that, without the basics that were developed by humans and assimilated as a part of human culture, technological formats will not be what they are nowadays and might affect human culture in other ways that unfortunately we could not have found out. Although threats were posted in some ways, modern media technologies should still be one side of the society coin but not an analogy of a penny and a dime.

The second assumption is somewhat a corollary of the first. Just as people seek social values in the social or cultural context, technology is not defined by what it actually does for or to the society, its standards and values are confined to the pre-existing social and cultural norms. That is to say, human culture endows media technology or its visible forms (e.g., digital artifacts) with meaning, culture is not owned by technology.

Last and importantly, no questions asked that most mediations of media were designed to benefit humans, however, saying that they were built to enhance humanity is an overstretch. Further, borrowing the words in A Philosophy in Technology, even if the initial intents were designed as elaborated, how they are actually brought into play is usually an uncontrollable factor.

Now we are in these conundrums: How do we keep the elusive factors under control? Can technologies be designed in the initial stages to serve human society as well as enhance what human culture merits? If these questions will not be answered, will the last question be “is it possible to force the societal norms to conform to the emergence of technologies”?

References:

Martin Irvine, Intro to Media and Technical Mediation

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Wikipedia page: Social Dualism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_dualism

how should we deal with the relationship between technology and social culture?

Zijing Wang

Accompanying with the dramatic technology revolution in the last decades, people tend to believe that technology and culture are dichotomous. But this week’s reading provides me with different opinions on this issue. On the one hand, the relationships between technology and culture are complementary. Culture is the product of human society, and technology is the method for achieving a social goal. Artifacts are not just independent objects, but an essential part of human society. Technology serves as a mediation and display culture thoughts. In this way, design principles become the bridge that connects technology and human culture. When we begin working with the sociotechnical idea, we will understand the fundamental rule among every technology around us, that is, humanization design. As I learned from previous readings, only when the designer module consists of the user module can the product produce the best results. Changing the view of technology vs. culture dichotomy make designers realize the essential role that culture plays in the development of technologies.

On the other hand, human actions are not only the result of individual intentions and social structures but also the results of using artifacts. The effects of using objects involve human actors and nonhuman actants. Designers have to delegate each actant a special responsibility. Those responsibilities must combine technology functions and culture consequences because neither actors nor actants can decide what will happen after applying the technology, just like it is neither guns nor people that kill. It is the combination of people and technology that determine the outcome. Designers need to predict and analyze the mediating phenomenon of technology to make sure the effect of technology on human behavior is moral and ethical. From this perspective, culture and technology influence each other and improve each other.

In conclusion, culture and technology have different connotations, but they are inevitably intrinsically linked. Technology is the law of exploring things, which is “seeking truth.” Culture is the direction of science and technology, the “pursuit of good” and how to be a man. Culture helps science and technology solve problems of directions and values. The combination of technology and culture can promote the sustainable development of society. Only in this way can science and technology benefit humankind better. Culture and technology are inseparable. Science and technology can’t develop healthily without correct humanistic views. Without concern for human beings and life, science and technology may bring nightmares to human beings. Also, humanity without science and technology can not correctly understand the changing real world, nor can it make objective and rational judgments of reality. It can not solve the terrible new human problems accompanied by the invention of modern science and technology, nor can it guide the direction of social development.

resources:

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Bruno Latour, “On Technical Mediation,” as re-edited with title, “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug. 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

 

Sociotechnical theory and innovation’s historical view

Xueying Duan

This weeks’ reading mainly focuses on the everlasting discussion between the relationship of technology development, media existence and culture evolution. Human has started to use natural materials and other technique in handy to create artifacts and contribute to our convenience for a long time. It usually seems that the process of creating is a human evolution which differs artifacts with natural sources by means of applying them appropriately and endow them with further significance.

Media has always existed among human development, from language to written record, from traditional medium to digital one. McLuhan proposed his famous ‘the medium is the message’ which claims that it is the media that are the most significant messages during human development. It emphasizes the importance of medium itself rather than the contents it carries. Although it seems to most of us that the contents which carry the most important information is what shape our behavior and attitude in the short period. But the medium form, and the technology behind it are actually leading toward a long-term evolution in people’s social habits. Even more, according to the sociotechnical theory, it is the social habits and the dynamic cultural development that trigger further evolution in technology and more media forms.

Podcast is an example that combining the sociotechnical theory with the accumulative cognitive advances and module design principle altogether. Podcast is a modern digital casting platform that works like a mobile radio while adopting the UGC pattern. Look back at the invention of radio, which first appear along with the discovery of electromagnetic theory, when people started to consider radio as a news receiving tool as gradually turn to a medium to spread, communicate and educate the public. After efficient communicating between information and the fast developing of information technology, the Internet exists as a worldwide spread of information that breaks the constraints of time and space. Follows by the trend of digitalization of our daily products. For those digital natives, they are enjoying their digital identity as both an information receiver and an information creator. Podcast exist as a combination of traditional social habit of information communication using the carrier/medium of audio and the digital lifestyle of sharing and recommending. This process presents the sociotechnical system of audio, internet and the evolution of social habits and human culture between their developing and applying. And also from the system and cognitive accumulation view, software and technology developments are first designed and then gradually become part of human being’s society and intellectual property, and continue as the technique accumulation in a long term. It is a mutual influence in the culture-shaping and medium development. rather than simply one-way communication. They are actually co-produced and co-constitutive.

Consider the design of Podcast as a blackbox, we cannot see the internal structure of it clearly simply from the external presentations or an iconic sign. The de-blackboxing process of Podcast reveals the different modules that construct of it. The account is linked with users’ Google account which has access to the viewing record, media-using habits, searching history an so on that support the interaction between different platforms that share the same account and personal profile. And the algorithm behind users’ habit enables it to better distribute or recommend to the target users. Moreover, it also has links to project on the outer devices via pin code or voice-activated. Using such methods by elaborating each module’s function and interfaces helps with better understanding the inner part of a blackbox.

References:

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Systems in Our Life and How Systems Matter in Design?

No matter as a user or an operator, a designer or an engineer, understanding the things we interact in a systematic view is important, since nearly no object is absolutely isolated from a system, even a person self is also in a system.

Simply imagine that, one day you want to read a book so that you open your computer to search for a digital version in Amazon or some online library, or you want to read a paper book, so you could buy one from the internet or go to a library with public transportation or by your car. From the idea that you want to read a book to the stage you get the book, so many sociotechnical systems are involved, including the Internet system that connects different computers and servers to transmit information and help users find the one they need, the Cloud system which offers a virtual space to store data so that a great number of books could be “piled up” there and users in different places can access with the permission of a certain library website, public transportation systems that combine passengers, drivers, vehicles, route plan and integrated within traffic systems. If you drive a car to the library, you would participate a traffic system which means that you, traffic lights, roads, vehicles, traffic rules come out as a system. It’s safe to say that we are always a part of a system or part of multi systems at the same time.

If we only see the products we use a technical artifact, not part of a system and treat ourselves as simply a user, we will have difficulty in understanding the principle before them and always be blinded by them. Every time you use a computer, you will be amazed by its functions and think they are magic. Furthermore, we will become followers of products around us and lose the ability to optimize them by ourselves. Most importantly, understanding every object and ourselves as a part of systems can help us adapt to new products since in a sociotechnical system, every new product would not come from blue-they will more or less overlap or use the concept or organism of other systems.

Although designing a product in a systems view is more difficult because we must consider not only the technology used in it, but also a broad social situation with institutions, organizations and regulations, the designers should keep it while taking its benefits into account. In the very beginning of ideation, a team gathering experts in different areas is necessary. A team should include engineers who can build a technical object, consultants, or professors who can provide opinions and suggestions about the social system and further how to integrate the product into the system, and consumers who will possibly use this product so that they can help designers find a way to make their product more useful and understandable. In this sense, the systems view help us avoid making a product out of tune. This kind of process is for some simple products, like an App. For the more complicated products, designers and even the society as a whole should constitute a new system for them. Only in this way, new products could actually be useful and valuable. Can you imagine airplanes flying without a civic airplane system mentioned in A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems, it will definitely have a severe effect and airplane would never have today’s important position in our transportation system and daily life. 

 

Recitation:

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory.

Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Mediation and Sociotechnical System

The concept of mediation, first comes to me as quite elusive, blows my mind when I finished this week’s reading, since it helps us visualize the “invisible conditions and relations” (Irvine, YouTube) behind the interfaces that interact with us. Each digital interface has invisible social-cultural relationship behind it, and it is those “already in place” social relations determine the way digital interfaces are designed. Technology, media and society/culture are parts of a socio-technical system: they are interdependent and interacted.

Websites are interfaces reconstructing and connecting pre-existed media, such as graphics and texts, and gathering fragmented information. Meanwhile, they are not simply a “medium” of displaying and transmitting information, which is their “social values, function and power” (Irvine), they generate novel meanings  for social activities.Digital library websites redefine the meaning and people’s way of searching for documents: when we need resources for academic essay, the first thing we do is to open jstor or Google Scholar, but not head into school library. Crowdsourcing websites redefine the social function of the crowd by stressing the mutual benefit between the users and the crowdsourcers. Social websites alternate our communicating methods and our definition of community. Online shopping websites change our mode and definition of shopping.

Searching engines, Google Chrome for example, further connects the websites together. What I find interesting about the searching engine is its graphics. The home page of google chrome consists of Google Top Stories, a searching bar, and two lines of icons linked to our frequently browsed pages.

Each of those functions is represented by a graphic. If those graphics are not hyperlinked to their functions, they are simply graphics and have no meaning, but when they are connected to the sociotechnical system, they each represents another whole system behind the Chrome interface. If you click the biggest graphic, you will enter the researching page of Dr. Herbert Kleber, the main character of the Top Stories. It is given a new meaning by Dr. Herbert’s story. In the researching page, there are more graphics and photos representing his books, portraits and the news about him. As for the two lines of graphics representing users’ frequently browsed pages, they remind users of what they have searched before and lead them to those pages with simply one click. As a result, they serve as  reminders of the users’ memories. The social-cultural function of the graphics in Google Chrome are re-mediated by their functions hided behind the interface. Graphics as people’s cognitive symbol “is the function precedes, and is the precondition for the current technical implementation”(Irvine), that is the design of the interface of Google Chrome.

CITATIONS:

Debray, R. (1999)  “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Trans. Martin Irvine.

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method”

Martin Irvine, Intro to Media and Technical Mediation (from “Key Concepts in Technology”)

Extending the Speed Bump Metaphor

One question which technologists, designers, and philosophers of technology repeatedly return to asks, “is the way a technology achieves an end significant for those interacting with it?” Both Latour and Vermaas et al. reference the moral imposition of the speed bump (which demands compliance to the law because of the ways it interacts with the suspension system of a car) as opposed to the traffic officer holding a sign reading “slow down for students” (which politely asks compliance on moral or humanistic grounds).

I’m interested in the question of the role of different processes for achieving the same effect in terms of what it implies about technologies as agents of change and how extending the speed bump metaphor helps for understanding why we no longer need the social/technical divide. It seems to me that a technology might contribute to change in the world in one of two ways — through physical rearrangement or through changes in performative or procedural roles. Latour says so much in Reassembling the Social, although he calls the first ostensive change. What Latour, Vermaas, Debray, and others intend to achieve through an understanding of technologies as actors is not deterministic in scope, but instead has to do with the imagined divide between technology and society. Technology and society cannot be divided because they always already inform one another. The never-fully-ostensive performative class of students engender the technical (ostensive) reality of the speed bump which, in turn, results in the ostensive slowing down, even though the speed bump is only reinforcing the pre-existing performative value of “speed limit.” The point in destroying the divide between the social and the technical is not to say that there is no difference at all between performative roles and values (which we often think of as social) and ostensive artifacts (which we often think of as technical), but instead to recognize that both construct our political ecology — to use Latour’s phrase — in a way where they constantly overlap and cause change in one another.

Given the reason for eliminating the social and the technical divide, I wonder if Latour’s dichotomy of human and non-human actors effectively communicates the new definition of social which he promotes. In other words, while he certainly takes a great stride forward by establishing the role of non-human actors as crucial to understanding sociotechnical systems, this vocabulary fails to demonstrate clearly how the new social includes both abstractions which can only be performed, as well as manifestations which can be clearly seen, touched, or heard. The point is not only that non-humans act, in addition to humans, which was already assumed, but that the social world is not limited to that of abstract performances and also includes technological instances of “society made durable.” Perhaps in design thinking, it would be helpful to consider the “ostensive relations” as well as the “performative actions” an artifact might produce.

Works Cited:

Debray, R. (1999)  “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Trans. Martin Irvine.

Latour, B. (1999) Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vermaas P., Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011