The Social Technology Page
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People on the net should be thought of not only as solitary information processors but also as social beings. People are not only looking for information; they are also looking for affiliation, support and affirmation. …
If we view people as social actors, then we should view the net as a social technology . A social technology is one that makes it possible to find people with common interests, to talk with them and listen to them, and to sustain connections with them over time.
Sproull, L. and Faraj, S. (1995). “Atheism, sex, and databases: The Net as a social technology.” In B. Kahin and J. Keller (Eds.), Public access to the Internet , published by MIT Press (emphasis added)
This page covers social technology , not just as defined above, but in the very broad sense given below . But this page is also one of several pages on my personal web site that were originally designed to present my own vision of a future human society with no crime, no unemployment, with strong families formed of loving parents unlikely ever to divorce, with no hunger or malnutrition, and with good education and health care for everyone — a society of fulfilled and happy people. That material is still here, but now this page includes much more.
The other pages on this web site still exist primarily to chart a path from where human society is now to that much better future I’ve just described. They contain a plan for reaching that future without revolution, violence, or coercion of any kind. See The Idea of Social Technology , below for more information on this plan.
For me, the possibility of such a utopian future depends in part on the public awareness of social technology as a new field of human endeavour, incorporating much of what is best in several existing fields but taking a pragmatic technological approach that has long been missing in our social institutions.
Right now I am taking the broadest possible interpretation of the phrase ‘social technology’, which includes at least:
- All applications of technology, from whatever underlying source of tools and techniques, to the solution of social problems and the better organization of society.
- All technology derived from or related to the social sciences: sociology, anthropology, social and behavioural psychology, criminology, social and behavioural geography, and social economics.
- All technology used by the major social institutions in our society, including education, healthcare, the legal system, and government.
- Your interpretation — what do you think social technology is? I do not want to exclude any legitimate use of the phrase (but, see what I do exclude, below — if you disagree, please see the e-mail address below.).
Some of you may immediately want to object that this is too broad a definition, that it covers too much, so here are a few things I am explicitly excluding, because they are already well covered by the sciences:
- Development of theories. Social technology is concerned with what works, especially the collection and application of tools and techniques that work, and we leave up to scientists the task of developing theories to explain why the technology works, or to predict what new technology might work. But social technology is not just applied science because we often know that some tool or technique works without knowing why. In those cases we pass our questions on to science for analysis, but try not develop our own theories beyond what is immediately useful.
- Internals of other technologies:
- Social technology uses computers where they are needed, but it does not address the internal workings of computers, so social technologists do not need to know anything about silicon chips, disk drives, or fibre optics.
- Social technology uses applied mathematics where it is needed, but we do not address the details of vectors and matrices, functions, or algebraic structures, so social technologists do not need to know any mathematics — they just need to be able to use the software in which the mathematical tools are hidden.
For more information on the relationship between science and technology, please visit my page on that often misunderstood relationship.
The Social Technology Page exists not just for my ideas about social technology, but for everything relevant to this topic, including people working on social technology, resources for you to use, and links to other pages. If you have something you’d like to see listed here, please send me an e-mail message — see address below.
More information and useful links can be found on my Social Technology Links page.
Links and resources for the more general subject of technology and society can be found on the Technology and Society Resource Page , which is a collection of links to various web pages and other Internet resources concerned with:
- social technology
- the social implications of technology.
If anyone has a web page or other resource that they’d like to see included on either the social technology links page or the technology and society resource page, please send me the URL, or other relevant information, with a sentence or two of description, at the address given below.
Those link pages are primarily intended for information and announcements, but I am willing to include links to home pages of people with a special interest in the field. I am also willing to include a few commercial announcements (i.e. ads), provided they are clearly relevant to social technology, or to technology and society.
The quotation, definitions, and text above are new additions to this page, which is now attempting to reach other to other people who use the phrase ‘social technology’. What follows below is from the original version of this page, which was called
The vision I have described above of a future world without crime, poverty, hunger, divorce, and unemployment, is a bold vision which includes the strong claim that all this is possible. Such claims have been made before by people with oversimplified notions of social change according to left-wing or right-wing idealism. The views presented here are entirely different: they are based on a highly technical analysis of human society as a virtual network of connections that can be improved dramatically using combinatorial optimization and other powerful methods.
But while methods of optimization are described, there is no intention of ever coercing anyone to fit into any “optimal” scheme devised by somebody else. On the contrary, the final judgment about what is optimal and what is not must remain with each individual person.
The social network optimization just mentioned is only an example of the social technology that is being developed. As the definition of social technology given above should suggest, I have a very precise idea about the distinction between science and technology. To state it briefly I’ll just say that technology is know-how , knowledge about how to do something.
We have a lot of social technology, according to my definition of the term, since it includes everything we know how to do with respect to society and social institutions. We know something about how to educate people and prepare them for life as citizens of their society. We know something about how to discourage crime and keep the peace. We know something about how to ensure that society reflects the interests, needs, and desires of the people that compose it.
You are probably acquainted with quite a bit of technology for various purposes and of various levels. Much of the technology involved in finding and reading this web page is considered high-technology, but you are probably acquainted with some technology at the other end of the scale, such as the primitive stone axes of our distant ancestors, or the crude wells that still supply water for a lot of people in underdeveloped countries. So, how would you rate the social technology of law and government, or of other social institutions in our society? Hi-tech,. or lo-tech?
I think most of our social institutions employ social technology at the level of the ox-cart, or undershot waterwheel, though some news stories provoke me to re-evaluate that assessment, reminding myself that the ox-cart and waterwheel, although primitive, do actually work quite well, something that I’d be reluctant to say about any government.
I want social technology that actually works, very well, almost all of the time — social technology that will satisfy us — that we will approve of , without reservation. Together with my previous remarks about governments that may seem like a political statement, but I don’t me it to be. To me what is important is the development of techniques that work, preferably the development of very sophisticated techniques that work very well, but the actual application of these techniques must be up to the people themselves, something they can advocate or demand, depending on their political environment.
This page should have introduced you to the idea of social technology and my personal hope that we can make it truly high-technology. What follows on other pages is information about my own research and the various ideas that have driven it. If you want to pursue this further, the next step is to click on the link below and read about my scale for rating social connections.
Rather than designing a society from the top down, as philosophers and social theorists have done since the days of Plato, I am more concerned with the quality of individual social connections. For me a society that works must be one in which the individual social connections between us are strong ones. All social connections, including all of those between husband and wife, between teacher and pupil, and between employer or supervisor and employee must be based on genuine compatibility, or the whole of society is negatively affected.
Is that actually possible? Isn’t it very difficult to find compatible people? Yes, it is. But it shouldn’t be. Good social connections are vital to a good society — what is a society, after all, but people and the connections between them? So, people wanting their society to work well should insist on social technology that can guarantee people good, truly compatible, social connections. The final choices must be left to the people themselves, but the heuristics, the searching and finding, is too important for society as a whole to be left entirely in the hands of individuals.
There is much more about this, and you will find it on the following pages. I have enough of an engineering background to feel uncomfortable with anything you can’t measure, so I begin with a logarithmic scale for describing compatibility .
Copyright © 1998-2000 Douglas P. Wilson
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson
Other relevant content:
Please see these web pages:
The main Social Technology page.
Find Compatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained
Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology
Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes. I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.
Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :
Social Technology the main blog, hosted on this site, with posts imported from the following blogger.com blogs, which still exist and are useable.
Find Compatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.
Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.
Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation. Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.
I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology — years before the Web existed.
Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic. Now things are different. There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google. Oh, well.
By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society. The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of Find Compatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.
As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years. We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century. By contrast, horse and buggy transporation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.
In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture. How things have changed since then in agricultural technology. But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.
I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable. I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages. The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day. Maybe. The topic is still not interesting to most people. I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.
This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date. They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not. There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites. I’ve tried to fix up or maiintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed. One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.
Type in this address to e-mail me. The image is interesting. See Status of Social Technology
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson
I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam. Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see. So I have switched to a new e-mail service. Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture. I have also made it difficult to reach me. The picture is not a clickable link. To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in. That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don’t want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson