Getting some terminologies straight

This will help me, if nobody else.  First, social technology should be an academic discipline, like psychology or sociology.  That is how the “-ology” suffix works.  But it is alright to talk about how the world is being changed through social technology — meaning applied social technology, just as it is (was?) correct to say that the world is being changed through psychology  — meaning applied psychology.    Note that there are currently only a handful of Social Technology courses at universities.

A technologist of any kind is someone taught the academic discipline, to be a teacher and researcher in that field of technology, but a technician of any kind is someone who applies what a technologist teaches.   A social technologist studies and teaches social technology, while we may call people who do the actual work social technicians.    That is NOT the same thing as being a “social engineer”.  The term social engineering has become pejorative because it is what totalitarian countries did.   As well as being taught by social technologists, social technicians may be taught by other social technicians, just as student physicians are taught practical applications by other physicians in addition to whatever theoretical studies they had in medical school.

The social status of a technologist, technician, and engineer may vary.     A fully trained physician is a person of high status, more so than the physiologist responsible for part of his or her training.    An engineer is ordinarily a person of more status than a technician, but that is not necessarily so when there is something called an engine to be operated.   If it breaks a technician will need to be called in to fix it.   That technician will normally be able to operate the device too, but is above such a task.    As for social engineering, enough said.   Someday the term may gain respectability again, but that will probably be a while.   Is there any need of it?

Social technicians may work quite visibly when they develop what the Wikipedia calls Social software (social procedure) or more behind the scenes when they develop what the Wikipedia calls Social software (computer software).   They may also develop Social hardware, like the advanced descendents of cellphones, which are effectively hardware, despite the rather large amount of software hidden within them.

A social utility (like Facebook) is something like the public water system or the electrical network, or even the railroads, all are utilities, large scale service providers.   But any social utility must have social technicians engaged in the analysis, design and implementation of its component software.     It may also have social technologists to study and guide the technicians.

People  very often use the term “Social Technology” to refer to Facebook.  Linguists and lexicographers exist to report public usage, so that way of using the term cannot actually be called wrong.   It is in fact consistent with the use of technology to describe steam engines and electric generators, but that way of speaking tends to break down useful analogies.   An interesting term is “invention” to which we can add the term “social” if we want.   The process of  invention something involves reseach, and so is indeed the study of something,  which can be called technology.  But we use the term invention to describe the actual product itself, the thing invented.   Similarly we loosely use the term technology to refer to the result of technological research — part of the academic discipline of technology.

All this terminological stuff is not as important as I have made it out to be, and indeed I have used the expression in ways I don’t actually agree with for many years.  But this kind of discussion helps me keep things straight in my own mind.     I think of myself as a social technologist, a researcher, not a social technician, though I do try, sometimes, to do the technical work myself.    But I would never describe myself as a technology.    I have worked as an analyst, not as an analysis, and I am somewhat of an inventor, not an invention (though we all invent ourselves in our own minds).


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