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Session 4 What is Social Informatics and why does it matter? I

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1 Session 4 What is Social Informatics and why does it matter? I
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones” John Cage, US Composer,

2 Cognitive Authority Church vs State Nature vs Nurture Death vs Life
Plants vs Animals Parts vs Persons Julius Lekics vs ITI103 class Nature vs Nurture God vs Scientists Genes vs Environment Technically Mastered Humans vs Nature

3 Technological Determinism vs Social Construction of Technology
Review of Learning Technological Determinism vs Social Construction of Technology “A kind of invisible hand guides technology ever onward and upward, using individuals and organizations as vessels for its purposes but guided by a sort of divine plan for bringing the greatest good to the greatest number.” Purcell, Carroll (1994): White Heat. London: BBC, p. p. 38 “Interaction between society and technology is primarily seen as one in which social conditions are the primary impetus for the convergence of existing technologies and their use”.


5 Session Objectives To examine a case study of genetics research using IT, and to identify human issues involved To begin to understand the nature of the field of study labeled Social Informatics To identify key areas of the social impacts of Information Technology

6 Controversy Kari Stefansson and the Genetic Database Controversy

7 Icelandic company focused on genetic research, disease and drug development
Founded by neurologist Kari Stefansson Went public in July 2000 Has a pledge for up to $200 million from Hoffmann-LaRoche Genetic tracking of 25 specific diseases

8 deCODE genetics
Their mission is: to perform genetic and medical research to identify disease genes, and drug and diagnostic targets to use modern informatics technology to discover facts about health and disease through data-mining to use this knowledge to develop and sell products and services for the international healthcare industry

9 Kari Stefansson, M.D. Stefansson has a
grand vision for Iceland and the people of Iceland. He plans to crack the genetic mysteries of common diseases, from cancer to hypertension.

10 Kari Stefansson: On deCODE Genetics, Inc.
“I look at this company first and foremost as company of Icelanders for Icelanders. And the company benefit by having an opportunity to do extremely good science and contributing to curing diseases” “Economically we will benefit by contracting with large pharmaceutical companies that are eventually going to develop the medications for the treatment that will be derived from the discovery of these genes.”

11 The Project & The Deal The government of Iceland agreed to create a national database containing DNA samples, genealogical histories, and medical records of all Icelanders to be operated by a private company. deCODE Genetics, Inc. will pay the government of Iceland $12 million per year for 12 years for exclusive rights to the database.

12 The Population: Why Iceland?
Geographically isolated, 100% literacy Relatively homogeneous population genetically Availability of large genealogical database National health care and healthy population Pro-government and pro-technology population


14 Iceland: Facts Area: 39, 769 square miles
Capital: Reykjavik (population= 164,000) Religion: Evangelical Lutheran 95%, Other Protestant denomination 3%, Roman Catholic 1% and some followers of Asatru, ancient Norse religion Government: Democratic Republic Ethnic Composition: Homogeneous mixture of descendents of Norwegians and Celts Major Industries: Fishing, aquaculture, aluminum smelting & geothermal power

15 The Problem deCODE Genetics, Inc. sells genetic information to insurance companies and offers DNA supplies to drug companies in exchange for partnerships.

16 The Issues POSITIVE Possibility of helping humanity to conquer disease
Development of high-level bio-technology jobs in a weak economy NEGATIVE Government selling the privacy of its citizens Presumed rather than informed consent Possibility of genetic discrimination

17 The Opposition Einar Arnason, Population Geneticist Questions the genetic homogeneity of Icelanders. “They could just as well do their stuff in Switzerland or New Jersey” Skuli Sigurdson, Historian of Science “I’m not against healing the world. I’m against unregulated research, against megalomania.”

18 Back to the future with Bill Joy
Limit development of technologies that are too dangerous by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge “Immortality is certainly not the only possible utopian dream”

19 QUESTIONS How do we weigh the right to individual privacy vs. the possibility of improving life for all people? Do insurance companies have an obligation / right to discriminate against those who probably carry genetic defects? MacPherson, Kitta. “Tapping Iceland’s Genetic Jackpot” The Sunday Star-Ledger December 17, 2000, pp. 1 +

20 INFORMATICS “The study of the properties of information, as well as the application of technology to the organization, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information” “The structure of knowledge and its embodiment in information-handling systems”

21 SOCIAL INFORMATICS “Identifies a body of research that examines the social aspects of computerization”. “The interdisciplinary study of the design, uses and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts." (Kling)

22 SOCIAL INFORMATICS Emerged 1996: scholars meeting at UCLA examining social aspects of digital libraries Diffuse: across many fields of study Multiplicity of specialist languages Major concern: rhetoric, over-simplification, anecdotal claims of impact of technology on social productivity and development Research orientation

23 Rhetoric or Reality

24 Apple computers “From the days when paper replaced slates in schools, our children have been flag bearers in the onward march of technology. Today they’re at the forefront of the computer revolution and taking it all in their stride” Apple Computers

25 Sony "The Internet is a kind of power shift. … Now the consumer has more power than the company" Nobuyuki Idei, Chief Executive

Today, the Internet is far from obscure--it's the center of attention for businesses, governments and individuals around the world. It has spawned entirely new industries, transformed existing ones, and become a global cultural phenomenon. … We are only at the dawn of the Internet Age. BILL GATES Bill Gates SHAPING THE INTERNET AGE

27 “Millions log off internet to join the real world” Virtual Society (Oxford University)
Internet might not be as persuasive and influential as previously predicted Many of social claims associated with the Internet were exaggerated by industry to promote their products Many teenagers using Internet less now than previously

28 Some research evidence Kiesler et al 1999
“Internet is too hard for ordinary people” Evidence: High help desk call rates Difficulties with installations Software configurations Faulty software Inexperience with navigation Children becoming critical “on-site” technical consultants for their parents

29 “New Kids on the Box” (Todd & McNicholas, 1996)
School students: Difficulty in defining search terms, creating search strings Difficulty in interrogating WWW and effectively using search engines Difficulty in establishing quality, authority of information Productivity issues: time, cost, constructing answers

30 Are computers stealing our brains?
“Computer-mad generation has a memory crash” Cherry Norton and Adam Nathan

31 Computer-mad generation has a memory crash
Japanese study of 20-30yr olds suffering memory loss because of reliance on computer technology diminished use of the brain to work out problems and inflict "information overload" that makes it difficult to distinguish between important and unimportant facts "Young people today are becoming stupid."

32 Research Vs Rhetoric in the Work Place

33 Research Vs Rhetoric in the Work Place
Paperless office is as much an utopian ideal as ever – paper consumption 4 times its level of 10 years ago not supplanting but adding to communication overload Reduction of productivity gains that some would expect to routinely result from computerization has increased rather than reduced the number of face-to-face meetings since meetings are now held to resolve disputes emerging from electronic communication

34 Research Vs Rhetoric in the Work Place
Many forms of ICTs, such as groupware, instructional computing, and manufacturing control systems, are often abandoned or reshaped to be used in new ways Consequences of ICT use can appear “contradictory” because they can differ across the various situations in which the ICTs are deployed Many business firms using WWW sites to enhance markets and increase sales are losing significant amounts of money on their efforts at electronic commerce

35 Rhetoric or Reality

36 Misguided Assumptions
ICTs have direct effects upon organizations and social life; these effects depend primarily upon the ICT's information processing features; and the information processing features of new ICTs are so powerful relative to preexisting technologies that they effectively determine how people will use them and with what consequences.

37 Failed Predictions One reason that many predictions about the social effects of specific ICT consequences have proven inaccurate is that they are based on oversimplified conceptual models of specific kinds of ICTs or of the nature of the relationship between technology and social change

38 Direct Effects Theories
theory of the causal powers that computerized systems can exert upon individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, social networks, social worlds, and other social entities Eg: “use of computer‑assisted information processing and communication technologies would lead to elimination of human nodes in the information processing network.”

39 The Productivity Paradox
current strategies of computerization do not readily produce expected economic and social benefits in a vast number of cases. In particular, technology alone, even good technology alone, is not sufficient to create social or economic value. Studies and theorizes about the ways that effective computerization depends upon close attention to workplace organization and practices. (Kling)

40 The Productivity Paradox
Many organizations develop systems in ways that lead to a large fraction of implementation failures; Few organizations design systems that effectively facilitate people’s work; We significantly underestimate how much skilled work is required to extract value from computerized systems; Taken together, these observations suggest that many organizations lose potential value from the ways that they computerize. (Kling)

41 The Question of Access Technological Access
Physical availability of computers, software and cable Assumption of ease of access and ease of use “Add it on” Social Access Human know-how Technical skills Understand how it enhances professional practice and social access Ability of people to actually use

42 The Technological Determinists say
“The Web means that the public will get better information than ever before.” The Social Informaticists ask: “When will the Web enable the public to locate ‘better information’? Under what conditions? Who? For what?” For example: Are people seeking information to help them make a better choice of doctors, and then placing more trust in that doctor. Or are people seeking alternatives to doctor-mediated medical care?

43 Social Informatics Research: Three Orientations
Normative: explicit goal of influencing practice by providing empirical evidence illustrating the varied outcomes that occur as people work with ICTs in a wide range of organizational and social contexts Analytical: develops concepts and theories to help generalize from understanding of ICT use in a few particular settings to other ICT uses in other settings; Critical: examining ICTs from perspectives that do not automatically and uncritically accept the goals and beliefs of the groups that commission, design, or implement specific ICTs.

44 SOCIAL INFORMATICS Research is empirically focused Problem focused
Analytical and interpretive Contextual


46 “social context” of information technology development and use plays significant role in influencing ways that people use information technologies, and thus influences their consequences for work, organizations, and other social relationships. Social context does not refer to some abstracted “cloud” that hovers above people and information technology; it refers to a “specific matrix of social relationships”

47 Context ICTs do not exist in social or technological isolation. Their “cultural and institutional contexts” influence the ways in which they are developed, the kinds of workable configurations that are proposed, how they are implemented and used, and the range of consequences that occur for organizations and other social groupings.

48 Social Context informed by:
Human-Computer Interaction Information Seeking Behavior Communication Processes Human Information Processing Attitudes, Values, Beliefs Attitudes to Technology Organizational Behavior

49 Goal of Social Informatics
To understand how people’s behavior, interactions, relationships, values and attitudes interact with IT. To develop empirically-grounded concepts that help us to predict (or at least understand) variations in the ways that people and groups use information technologies.

50 Social Context Not to treat all or most social behavior as separable from the technologies. The concept of “computerized information systems as social technical systems”

51 Socio-Technical Systems
Complex interdependent systems comprised of: ·  people in various roles and relationships with each other and with other system elements; · hardware (computer mainframes, workstations, peripherals, telecommunications equipment); · software (operating systems, utilities and application programs);

52 Socio-Technical Systems
·  techniques (e.g. management approaches, voting schemes); · support resources (training/support/help); ·  information structures (content and content providers, rules/norms/regulations, such as those that authorize people to use systems and information in specific ways, access controls

53 What does this mean for professional practice?
Working in a “design studio” far away from the people who will use a specific system VS understanding which features / tradeoffs most appeal to the people who are most likely to use the system; Focus groups, user participation in design teams; Understanding the contextual richness of work environment and culture of workplace, and how technology might empower this

54 Social design of ICT “Shadowing” managers and workers to determine likely uses of the planned system; Participating in system design efforts to ensure the system fits the organizational structure and culture; Facilitating user participation in the design activity; Assessing current work practices / creating new ones; Planning implementation, including education and training; Observing system in use and making appropriate changes.

55 Why Social Informatics Matters
Develop reliable knowledge about IT and social change based on systematic empirical research Inform public policy debates, design, use, configuration, education and training Intelligently address misplaced hopes about IT Understand social relations eg. trust, power, transformation, etc Adds value – performance / outcomes of work place


57 THINK and DISCUSS Social Informatics examines the social aspects of computerization. Some social commentators claim that the Internet is enabling “a great status upheaval and a subversion of all manner of social norms”. What is your view on this claim? This view comes across in a story published in The New York Times Magazine on July 15th, 2001, titled “Faking it” about a teenage boy named Marcus Arnold who posed as a legal expert on the web site “AskMe”, and who was rated as the No. 1 legal expert on that website. Read and comment!!

58 READ for next class Read Andrew Feenberg’s paper: “From Essentialism to Constructivism: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads”

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